Falwell finances far from divine

Reuters/August 6, 2008

Despite raising an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars for the Christian right, televangelist Jerry Falwell died poor, a new book claims.

Falwell had taken a cut for his efforts, but lost most of his fortune to a doomed investment, a $20 million "Christian community," according to investigative author Dirk Smillie in his new book "Falwell, Inc."

The 140-acre property, atop Virginia's Chandler Mountain, was to be called Liberty Village and was to have 1,135 units of housing, a clubhouse, movie theater, supermarket and chapel, and promised a faith-based lifestyle.

But now the site has become a local police training ground.

Falwell tried to sell the homes on his "Gospel Hour," but sales didn't keep up with construction, and the contractors sued. Falwell's partner filed for bankrupty.

"Creating a ghost town for the local SWAT team to stage maneuvers wasn't exactly what Falwell had in mind," said Smillie, a Forbes reporter. "He was a bold entrepreneur, but he was a bad businessman. I don't think his wife even let him have a checkbook. He raised hundreds of millions for conservative causes, but didn't raise much for himself."

While Falwell died last year, he left it to his son Jonathan Falwell to carry on his religious - and conservative - agenda. Dillie details a meeting the younger Falwell had with Rudy Giuliani, who was seeking his support for a presidential run.

Dillie claims the former mayor told Falwell, "I respect your values and your point of view. If I were President, you'd have an open door."

Falwell wanted Giuliani to choose an ultraconservative VP, Dillie claims. "If you can bring someone like [Mike] Huckabee on board, it'll signal you're going to move a little to the right," said Jonathan. "I believe my father would have endorsed Gov. Huckabee without hesitation."

But he was wrong - shortly before his death, Falwell told Newt Gingrich that he would back him for the presidency.

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