Another day, another spotlight on the business dealings of Jerry Falwell Jr., and this time it includes the money of Liberty University — the nonprofit Christian university he runs. According to real estate records and interviews obtained by Reuters, Falwell steered and personally approved the $1.2 million sale of an 18-acre racquet sports and fitness facility on former Liberty property to then-23-year-old Benjamin Crosswhite, Falwell’s personal fitness trainer. Crosswhite paid no money down on the deal and Liberty rented back part of the facility to the tune of $650,000. The deal was closed in 2016. [h/t Reuters] From the report: “The school also offered Crosswhite financing, at a low 3% interest rate, to cover the rest of the $1.2 million transaction, the contract shows.”
Falwell’s personal finances were already under scrutiny following a Florida lawsuit involving Giancarlo Granda, a young pool attendant whom the Falwells befriended and lent $1.8 million for the purpose of investing in a youth hostel Granda was starting.
The Granda deal and this newly revealed Crosswhite deal have some parallels, but in the latter case, Falwell used the money of Liberty, the tax-exempt university founded by his father.
When reached for comment by Reuters, Crosswhite responded via email, saying “All I will say is that my wife and I consult each other before every major business deal, and we bought the complex from Liberty together. My wife and I both work around the clock to make our business succeed.” Liberty issued a statement saying the fitness center, originally a gift from a trustee, had become a “drain” on university resources and Crosswhite was “the most viable purchaser.”
The Reuters report also says Crosswhite flew with the Falwells on their university-chartered jet to Miami, where Falwell has his annual physical. According to emails, Crosswhite came along as Falwell’s personal trainer to “explain to the doctors Mr. Falwell’s diet and exercise program and help document the results.” Since Falwell’s annual physical is mandated by Liberty, he did not have to reimburse the university for the trip, Reuters says. According to the report, shortly after the trip, Falwell sent an email to Liberty directing them to lease the fitness center, which the university still owned at the time, to Crosswhite.
Then in 2016, Falwell signed the deal selling the center to Crosswhite. As Reuters reports, the contract “says the price is $1.2 million but notes that the ‘Net Purchase Price’ is $580,000, because Liberty ‘agrees to credit’ Crosswhite with rental payments for seasonal use of the site’s tennis courts through 2025. The courts are used by Liberty’s tennis team for practices and tournaments.”
All told, Liberty lent Falwell’s fitness trainer a little over half a million dollars for the deal,Reuters says..
Buried towards the end of the Reuters writeup is this little chestnut about an obtained email from Liberty general counsel David Corry. “Corry, citing a Reuters reporter’s ‘persistent’ attempts to reach former board members and the Falwells, reminded the former trustees they had signed confidentiality agreements. He told them they were required ‘forever’ to keep secret what they knew about the university.”