Before the events related in this excerpt, Giancarlo Granda was just another 20-year-old Miami high school graduate: pool attendant at an iconic Miami Beach hotel, eager to please, ambitious, open to suggestion. A chance poolside encounter with Becki and then Jerry Falwell Jr., first-born son of an evangelical legend and his attractive 40-ish wife intrigued him. He acted on a lark, and was suddenly in the middle of a complex sexual affair with Becki. The affair gave Granda a firsthand view of immense wealth, unexpurgated power and unwavering faith, as well as the duplicity and destruction it takes to maintain their illusion.
(The Falwells have denied Granda’s account and insist that Jerry was not a participant in the affair.)
A decade later, it all looks very different. Their predatory nature, abuse of power, complete lack of moral compass and monumental hypocrisy is breathtaking to look back across the full sweep of it. In this excerpt from their new book Off the Deep End: Jerry and Becki Falwell and the Collapse of an Evangelical Dynasty, co-authors Giancarlo Granda and Mark Ebner recount how those first few tentative steps set Granda on a dizzying path to near destruction.
At the tail end of the high season at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami, on March 13, 2012, I was close to ending my shift at around 4:00 p.m, when I noticed a woman staring at me. She was camped out in my section—maybe in her mid-forties, attractive, fit, and very charismatic, stretched out on one of the poolside daybeds in a bikini. Daybeds are way more comfortable than the lounge chairs, and the going rate was $150 a day, so anyone with a daybed already had my attention.
Her dark brown eyes locked on to me, and I felt her watching me wherever I went. She had a deep, penetrating stare, and when she caught my eye she didn’t look away. It was a little disconcerting. The next time I was within earshot, she said, “Oh, these girls don’t know what they’re doing. You need someone older.”
She was being flirty, saying it as a joke, so I flirted back. She asked my name, and when I shook her hand, she complimented me on my handshake. We talked for a few minutes—“Do you go to school?”; “What kind of stuff are you interested in?”—and then I told her I had to get back to work. Every time I cycled through, there was a little more banter and a little more flirtation. She said her name was Becki.
It all seemed innocent enough, but then near the end of my shift, she asked me to sit down next to her on the daybed, where nobody could hear us, and in a conspiratorial tone asked me, “Hey, do you want to come back to my room?”
Not what I was expecting.
When I didn’t say no right away, she added, “There’s just one thing . . . My husband wants to watch.”
There was a lot to unpack in that sentence: a sexy rendezvous is about to happen, but wait, she’s married, but no, her husband’s okay with it and in fact he’s coming along to have a look. That was too many hairpin turns, and the resulting whiplash made me a little queasy. She knew it was shocking, and there was a slight catch in her voice when she said it. I must have recoiled ever so slightly, because she was quick to add, “Oh don’t worry, he’ll hide in the corner and watch us. That’s his thing. You won’t even know he’s there.”
By way of explanation, she said that she and her husband had visited Miami Velvet, a local swingers club in Doral. A lot of swingers stayed at the Fontainebleau, so Miami Velvet was well known to all of us who worked there. She confessed they had been curious about these sorts of places, having had no experience with them, but it was all gross, nothing sensual or erotic about it, people having faceless mechanical sex everywhere you looked, so they left. All I really knew about Miami Velvet was that it served as a punch line for the locals. I had never known anyone who had actually been there, and I had the sense that it was for an older age group. But now the conversation was charged with sex, and I wanted her to stay on topic.
I was conflicted. On the one hand, she was in her bikini, touching her neck, fussing with her hair, paying me compliments, sipping on her drink while she stared into my eyes. I found it all very intriguing. But it was also weird and unlike anything I had ever done before. I asked her if we could meet up alone first, but she said that would go against their agreement. I told her I needed some time to think about it and asked her to call me after my shift, which ended in another hour. She typed my number into her phone. She didn’t give me hers.
I had seen her surreptitiously taking pictures of me, in between chatting me up, and I surmised that she must have been texting her husband the whole time. Later, after she sent me a batch of the photos, I realized that at least one of them was taken from outside my section, which means she would have had to move into my section, which I suppose makes it a surveillance photo.
Soon after, her husband came down and joined us, and she introduced him as Jerry. He wore Speedo briefs, with his belly hanging over his waistband. It was a little awkward, and he largely avoided eye contact, but he shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you, Gian,” with his thick southern accent. He pronounced Gian like “John,” and this became his nickname for me for as long as I knew him.
Some of my coworkers and at least one manager could see what was going on, and they encouraged me to go for it. We all agreed it was strange but also hilarious. When Jerry left, he told me he’d see me later. In the parking lot my cell buzzed and the number came up as blocked. It was Becki. She had mentioned that they were staying in a suite in the Trésor Tower, which is between $1,000 and $1,500 a night, so while I didn’t know who they were, they obviously had money. Still, they suggested we meet at a Days Inn around the corner from the Fontainebleau so we could avoid any issues with hotel management if anybody recognized me. With traffic, it took me an hour to get home to my parents’ house, shower, change into jeans and a black T-shirt, and then a half hour to get back. I called my sister on my way home and told her what was happening, including what hotel we would be at, in case Becki and Jerry turned out to be serial killers. She thought the whole thing was hysterical. She was in her late twenties at this point, and a confidant and best friend, so she knew all about my dating life. She asked me, “Do you think this is a good idea?” laughing as she said it. I told her, “Probably not.” But then, you’re only twenty once.
I arrived at the Days Inn around 8:30 or 9:00 p.m. Becki was sitting on a couch in the lobby. I was nervous, and I guess she was too, because she poured whiskey from a fifth of Jack Daniel’s into a plastic cup. She wore nightclub attire: a tight dress that finished at mid-thigh, not see-through but suggestive, and black heels. We passed the cup back and forth between us to calm our nerves. At one point, she said, “I can’t believe we’re going to do this. This is crazy.”
At the time I had the impression they had never done this before, but a decade later I think that’s highly unlikely. Regardless, we made small talk as she lightly stroked my arms and inner thigh. I rested my hand on her leg, and soon we were comfortable enough with each other that she told me, “All right, let’s go upstairs.” On the elevator up she backed up against me, and I folded my arms around her.
I followed her into a clean, generic room with two queensize beds. Jerry lay on the one closest to the door, dressed, but with his jeans unbuttoned and fanned open so you could see his underwear; shoes off, with his shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbows. It was awkward at first, but he was already drunk, and he greeted me with “Hey, Gian,” and then let out a giggle. That was a little disconcerting, but it also served to break the ice, since it added to the absurdity. He had a drink, which he kept sipping while we talked.
I told him, “If you get jealous at any point, just let me know and I’ll get the hell out of here. I will not hesitate.” I was still worried that he might attack me and stove in the back of my head. But he told me, “Don’t worry about it. You guys do what you want to do.”
I kissed Becki, and she was practically vibrating. I picked her up and carried her over to the second bed. She was surprisingly light. She wasn’t wearing any panties, which is the kind of thing that makes an impression on you at twenty, and she half whispered, “Our rule is anything but intercourse,” meaning no penetration. I nodded that was fine. I went down on her, and when she finished, she told me, “My turn. Lay back.”
At some point, Jerry got up and walked to the side of the bed to get a better angle. I had a moment of near panic, thinking, What is he doing? and I told him to back off—not in a hostile way, just establishing some boundaries. He apologized and quickly walked back toward the entrance and stood right outside the bathroom. After that I was able to put blinders on and block him out. Becki rarely lost eye contact with me, but for all her forwardness, she seemed submissive in the moment, eager to please.
Afterward, they were elated that we’d managed to pull it off. She was buzzing, electric, and Jerry continued to giggle with excitement. I was happy, but this was enough pathfinding for one day. I told them, “All right, guys—I’m outta here.” Becki kissed me on the lips and then walked me down to the lobby. As I drove home, I was pretty sure I’d never hear from them again.
The next day, my cell phone rang as I was walking across campus. I picked up to hear Becki’s voice. “Hey, what’s up?” she said. “You want to see me again before I leave?”
I paused, then thought, Why not?
From OFF THE DEEP END: Jerry and Becki Falwell and the Collapse of an Evangelical Dynasty by Giancarlo Granda and Mark Ebner, published by William Morrow. Copyright © 2022 by Giancarlo Granda. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollinsPublishers