Turns out the entire Falwell family was benefitting from Liberty University.
Jerry Falwell Jr. stepped down in August as president of the university his father founded after a barrage of personal scandals, including a years-long affair his wife had with a pool boy that Falwell was said to have endorsed.
In the wake of the scandal, Liberty has now called for a forensic investigation in an attempt to untangle the Falwell family and their many businesses from the university amid a probe to investigate all facets of the evangelical scion’s time at the top.
And there is a lot to untangle from Falwell Jr.’s 13-year reign, according to a report, especially as before he was the president, he was a lawyer handling the institution’s real estate interests.
Falwell, who took over as president of Liberty in 2007 after years as a lawyer handling its real estate interests, intertwined his personal finances with those of the evangelical Christian university founded by his father.
During his time at Liberty, Falwell made sure his entire family fed on the cash cow by putting his two sons and their wives on the payroll. He also transferred a large Liberty facility to his personal trainer and had a friend’s construction company manage a university expansion project that cost hundreds of millions, according to Reuters.
But even before he was named leader of the school, Falwell is also said to have established a pair of companies that allowed him to make property deals with nonprofits affiliated with Liberty, Reuters found. In each of the deals, Falwell played multiple roles with potentially conflicting interests: He was an officer of the university, a board member for the nonprofit selling the land and a private developer who could profit from the transactions.
“It’s very worrisome to have these sorts of financial arrangements going on and they deserve intense scrutiny,” Michael Bastedo of the University of Michigan School of Education told the wire service.
The dodgy deals found by Reuters include:
- In 2001, property records show, Falwell set up a private company while he was a lawyer for Liberty, used it to buy an undeveloped tract of land from the school and then developed a strip mall on the plot. The company sold the property five years later at a significant premium.
- In 2005, property records show Falwell again acted as a private businessman when a university nonprofit affiliate and a company he operated joined together to sell land to a third company — controlled by Falwell´s real estate partner.
- In 2012, in a project Falwell launched as Liberty’s president, the university spent more than $2 million to build a tunnel that links the campus to another shopping plaza near campus that Falwell partially owns.
Falwell, who has claimed he is getting a retirement and severance package from Liberty worth $10.5 million, denied that he did anything inappropriate and claimed each transaction benefited Liberty University.
Liberty has declined to comment on Falwell’s golden parachute but “subsequently announced it was hiring one of the leading forensic firms in the world to conduct a thorough investigation” that will examine the school’s operations under Falwell, including financial and real estate matters, Reuters reports.
When contacted for comment, Falwell told Reuters he looked forward to the investigation.
“I welcome it because it will prove that all you guys (media) are liars. … You got nothing,” he said before warning the service against contacting his sons who are still employed at Liberty.
“Trust me,’” Falwell said, “you do not want to mess with me, OK?”
According to the report, Liberty employed a private firm — JF Management — formed by Jerry “Trey” Falwell III, Falwell’s elder son, to manage university properties.
The company received more than $58,000 in compensation in 2017, according to the school’s most recent public filing of tax form 990 with the US Internal Revenue Service. Trey Falwell also serves as a Liberty vice president, with total compensation from the university of $189,000 a year, according to the tax filings.
Falwell’s other son, Wesley, drew compensation in 2017 from Liberty of $54,744, the filings show. Laura Falwell, Wesley’s wife, earned $57,751 that year from Liberty, and Sarah Falwell, Trey’s wife, earned $63,315.