Jerry Falwell Jr. Settles Court Case Over Disputed ‘Pool Boy’ Business Deal

President Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University attends the school’s commencement ceremonies in Lynchburg, Va., in May. Credit: Jonathan Drake/Reuters

The settlement concludes a case that drew national attention over its connections to Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former fixer.

A settlement has been reached in a Florida court case over a disputed business deal that resulted from an unusual friendship that Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife struck with a former pool attendant at a Miami Beach hotel, court records show.

As part of the settlement, which was filed Friday in Miami federal court, Mr. Falwell will pay an undisclosed sum to a young man who claimed he had been offered an ownership stake in a gay-friendly youth hostel, the Miami Hostel, that Mr. Falwell and his wife, Becki, bought in 2013.

Mr. Falwell is the chancellor of one of the nation’s largest Christian colleges, Liberty University, and one of President Trump’s best known evangelical supporters.

The settlement brings to a close a case that drew national attention over purported sexually compromising photographs involving the Falwells that could have been used as leverage against them. Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who is now in prison, has said he intervened to help Mr. Falwell with the photos.

After Mr. Cohen’s involvement, the plaintiff, Jesus Fernandez Jr., said the case had forced him to change his name to Gordon Bello. His father, Jesus Fernandez Sr., who is no longer part of the lawsuit, became Jett Bello. The Bellos — then the Fernandezes — had filed the suit claiming the Falwells had promised them a share in the Miami Hostel. In a statement to The New York Times earlier this year, the senior Mr. Bello would not further explain the name changes, citing the pending litigation.

Mr. Falwell has denied the existence of the photographs, which Mr. Cohen discussed with the actor Tom Arnold, an anti-Trump crusader, in a secret recording. In legal filings, the Falwells denied ever promising the Fernandezes a share of the ownership of the hostel, which rents beds for as little as $15 a night.

The $4.7 million cash purchase of the hostel and its building — including a $1.8 million loan from the Falwells, according to a sworn affidavit — was a business venture with Giancarlo Granda, whom the couple befriended poolside at a Miami Beach hotel, the Fontainebleau, in 2012. Mr. Granda consulted a high school friend, the junior Mr. Bello, whose father had worked in Miami real estate for decades. (Mr. Falwell, who is not a minister, spent years as a lawyer and real estate developer.)

By the time the court case reached an impasse in late 2015, the fight had turned to the photos, several people involved in the case told The Times earlier this year. One or more people among Mr. Granda, the Bellos and their lawyers were believed to have the photos in their possession.

Mr. Cohen told Mr. Arnold in the recording that he was going to pay for the photographs and ensure no copies were kept by anyone else. He made a reference in the tape to the “pool boy,” who could have been Mr. Granda. But Mr. Cohen never specified whom he planned to pay. The payoff “never happened,” he added. A person close to the Falwells told The Times earlier this year that they did not know of Mr. Cohen’s supposed involvement until parts of Mr. Arnold’s recording were released.

Mr. Falwell’s lawyer, Joshua B. Spector, did not immediately respond to a phone call and an email seeking comment on Monday. Neither did Michael L. Addicott, a lawyer for the junior Mr. Bello.

Last month, Mr. Falwell moved the case to federal court, arguing that state court was an improper venue for a lawsuit between two people who lived in different states. Mr. Falwell resides in Virginia and Mr. Bello in South Florida, where he is a legislative aide to the Miami-Dade County Commission.

SOURCE: The New York Times – Patricia Mazzei