Miami lawsuit behind Jerry Falwell Jr. ‘pool boy’ hostel deal close to settling

Miami Herald/September 27, 2019

The Miami lawsuit that first detailed the real estate venture between Jerry Falwell Jr. and a former Fontainebleau pool attendant he and his wife met on vacation may come to an end soon.

Court papers filed this week by Falwell’s legal team said the two sides “recently reached an agreement-in-principle concerning a dollar amount to resolve this dispute.”

Plaintiff Gordon Bello, a 28-year-old Miami lawyer, sued the evangelical leader two years ago, claiming he was denied his rightful share in a South Beach hostel that the Falwell family bought in February 2013. A Falwell family entity paid $4.7 million for the dormitory-style hotel and then gave a portion of the business to a high school friend of Bello’s named Giancarlo Granda.

Falwell, the president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and his wife, Rebecca, met Granda at the Fontainebleau resort in 2012, where he worked as a pool attendant.

Bello, now legislative director for Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson, said he first met Rebecca Falwell through Granda and formed a “personal relationship” with her. Bello said he and his father then pitched Falwell Jr., a former real estate lawyer, on the idea of investing in a hostel as a lucrative venture in Miami.

Bello claims Falwell promised him a share in any future deal, too, but that the stake in the Miami Hostel at 810 Alton Rd. never materialized. In court papers. Falwell denied making the offer. His lawyers have pointed out Bello has submitted no evidence of an agreement.

The lawsuit, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, used the term “pool boy” to describe Granda and was the first to disclose the framework of a real estate venture that drew national attention.

Granda, now 28 and pursuing a master’s in real estate at Georgetown University, was granted a 25 percent stake in the Alton Road property. The real estate was recently valued at $4.6 million, according to the Falwell filing.

Granda, who helped oversee renovations of the 1939 building, earned just $108,944 from the business over the last six years, according to a recently filed affidavit by Trey Falwell, a Falwell son also overseeing the business. That amounts to just over $18,000 a year.

A Bello lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. Joshua Spector, Falwell’s Miami lawyer in the case, declined to comment.

Falwell’s legal team recently moved the case to federal court, arguing the dispute qualifies for a different jurisdiction in part because Falwell and the corporate entities involved are based in Virginia.

The latest court filing includes some new financial details regarding Granda’s compensation in the hostel venture, and what Bello is seeking from Falwell.

A Falwell lawyer said Bello is seeking an equal salary to Granda, lost profits for a hostel that tax records reviewed by the Herald show lost money at least through 2016, and the same share in the property as Granda.

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