Whistleblowers out Falwell's Liberty University as a grifty, multibillion-dollar personality cult

Jerry Falwell, Sr founded the Moral Majority, brought evangelicals into the voting booth, elected Ronald Reagan, and changed the face of American politics forever; his son, Jerry Jr now commands the Falwell empire, including Liberty University, which now has $3b in assets.

Politico's Brandon Ambrosino, a Liberty U alumna who has written extensively about the Falwells, the university and their associated scandals, has published an explosive, deeply reported story about corruption at Liberty University, and the central role that Jerry Jr plays in that corruption.

Liberty University is organized as part of a nonprofit and is bound by strict IRS rules banning self-dealing, conflicts of interest, electioneering, and so on.

But Ambrosino's report -- backed up by numerous whistleblowers at the highest levels of Falwell's organization, and denied strenuously by Falwell himself -- reveals numerous serious ethical problems with the management of the nonprofit, with massive financial wrongdoing and cronyism protected by a vicious personality cult ("It's a dictatoryship") centered on Jerry Jr and his wife, Becki.

Ambrosino's sources were terrified of reprisals for speaking out; one bought a burner phone out of fear that the Falwells had planted surveillance malware on his device.

The Falwell's inner circle is an unsavoury mix of grifters and yes-men and fixers, including John Gauger, who runs a black SEO company called Redfinch that made headlines when it took money from Michael Cohen to rig a poll to make Donald Trump seem more popular than he was (Cohen then burned Gauger and refused payment in full, which contributed to the episode coming to light). Ambrosino and his sources say that Gauger double-dips, selling his private services to the university and other clients while he's on the clock in his nominal job there.

I'm a volunteer on several nonprofit boards, and we all take this stuff really seriously: even if your ethical sense doesn't kick in when this kind of thing is going on, there's the personal legal and financial liability for board members who let this stuff happen on their watch. Judging from this report, there's enough shenanigans going on at Liberty U to tie up a whole division of IRS investigators, and based on the university's massive balance sheet, there's enough money to be recouped to pay for all of them.

And if that doesn't exorcise you, perhaps Falwell's lack of piety and propriety will: multiple sources described Falwell's habit of circulating pornographic images of his wife and bragging about his sexual escapades. This at a university that bans co-ed dancing.

At Liberty, Falwell is “very, very vocal” about his “sex life,” in the words of one Liberty official—a characterization multiple current and former university officials and employees interviewed for this story support. In a car ride about a decade ago with a senior university official who has since left Liberty, “all he wanted to talk about was how he would nail his wife, how she couldn’t handle [his penis size], and stuff of that sort,” this former official recalled. Falwell did not respond to questions about this incident.

More than simply talking with employees about his wife in a sexual manner, on at least one occasion, Falwell shared a photo of his wife wearing what appeared to be a French maid costume, according to a longtime Liberty employee with firsthand knowledge of the image and the fallout that followed.

Falwell intended to send the image to his and Becki’s personal trainer, Ben Crosswhite, as a “thank you” for helping his wife achieve her fitness goals, the employee said. In the course of texting, Falwell accidentally sent the message to several other people, necessitating a cleanup.

In a statement, Falwell denied this. “I never had any picture of Becki Falwell dressed in a French maid uniform, and never sent such a non-existent photo to Ben Crosswhite.”

‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence [Brandon Ambrosino/Politico]

(Thanks, Kathy Padilla!)