On the heels of a sexual-harassment lawsuit that was recently settled against megachurch Christian Faith Center, a local attorney is gearing up to file another suit.
The suit, which attorney Joan Mell plans to file next week, will include allegations of sexual harassment, exploitation, abuse of authority, and financial corruption against former and current Christian Faith Center pastors, as well as founder and senior pastor Casey Treat and his wife, Wendy.
“The Treat enterprise is a personal for-profit enterprise or business disguised as a church,” Mell told the Federal Way Mirror during an interview at her office with the plaintiffs in the soon-to-be-filed case. “It’s really the Treat’s personal enterprise and that includes exploiting … the women and men of the church for purely personal self-gratification.”
Plaintiffs in the case include Leslie Massey, also the plaintiff in the sexual-harassment case against Treat and the church, which settled for an undisclosed amount on Oct. 9. In that case Massey claimed that Treat’s son, Caleb Treat, who was a pastor there, had sexually harassed her and other female employees and church members. The other two plaintiffs in the upcoming case include former church members Janet and Kelly Russell, who claim that another campus pastor sexually assaulted Janet.
The church has acknowledged these allegations and launched its own investigation. “Christian Faith Center has retained an experienced, outside investigator to interview any person who comes forward with an allegation of workplace mistreatment,” said chief financial officer Theresa Fazekas in a statement. “Christian Faith Center will treat any complainant with respect and compassion. In these difficult situations, it is very important to obtain the facts and to treat all concerned parties with fairness. The employee whose conduct has been called into question is on administrative leave.”
Allegations of Financial Corruption
Several longtime Christian Faith Center members who have left the church over the years due to the allegations in this case spoke with the Federal Way Mirror during the interview. However, they asked to remain anonymous due to fear of potential backlash from the Christian Faith Center toward members who currently attend the church.
“The hardest issue was the level that [the Treats] prospered themselves at the expense of a lot of staff that weren’t making a lot of money unless they were in the key positions that affected the Treat family, like assistants or that type of thing to them,” said one man who attended the church with his wife for several decades. “For years, a lot of folks worked under that feeling [that] they’re the pastors … and they’re bringing lots of people in and they should be well compensated for what they do.”
However, the husband said the situation got more difficult when the church went through cyclic periods when there was a lack of funds and laid off employees to compensate. “I don’t have a problem with making a budget work, but it never seemed to be at their expense,” he said of the Treat family.
He noted he doesn’t think the church was involved in any illegal activity; it was more an ethical question, “the level at which I don’t think that the congregation realized how much the tithes and offerings went to taking care of the benefits of flying first-class everywhere, and lunches and dinners out to nice places,” he said. A tithe is one-tenth of the annual earnings taken as a tax for support of the church. “I think the church card was used. I don’t know if they ever reimbursed the church or not—that I’m not privy to, but I certainly know there were times they pulled out a card that said ‘Christian Faith Center’ on it.” He also said that when the Treats’ three children became adults, they quickly moved them into onstage praise and worship roles. He added that the general congregation had to audition and earn those types of roles, and this was “clearly not the pathway” for everybody else.
When incidents arose that seemed to go against the church, the Treats would allegedly spin it to the congregation and label anyone who went against the church as being somebody who is against God, the husband said.
His wife said there was a sense of entitlement within the family. She said she could see the “new toys” that Casey Treat was buying for particular people, including golf clubs and new suits and ties. She said church employees would have department meetings in which church officials would note that money is tight and they want to be wise with their money: “Do you guys want a printer or your job?” She added that a few days later, Wendy Treat’s assistant was freaking out that she wasn’t flying first-class. “It was such a difference of what was their expectations and what they get versus anybody else.” The wife said she doesn’t know if the church was reimbursed for those funds that were spent, “but it was definitely church money that was buying gifts at the time.”
During the couple’s employment with the church, they recall a month when they both received only about half a paycheck. They also each received a paycheck that was decreased by 10 percent. She said they were supposed to get that back, but she doesn’t recall if they ever did. The husband said the justification was that they were either going to have to lay off a bunch of employees, or staff would need to take a temporary pay cut. He added he is uncertain what the Treats’ salaries were, and he could only guess according to the family members’ cars, homes, and lifestyles.
According to King County property records, Casey and Wendy Treat own an 8,100-square-foot luxury home in Kent valued at over $1 million, which sits on an approximately 75,000-square-foot lot and includes five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and an indoor racquetball court. The couple also owns four adjoining parcels of land along Lake Fenwick. According to property records, two of the properties and their Kent home are listed in their name; the other two parcels are listed with Christian Faith Center as the taxpayer.
The couple said many things that Treat family members allegedly benefited from were not from their paycheck. The husband said that the church, as part of the Treats’ pay package, leased them new vehicles—including Mercedes Benz and other luxury vehicles. He said the Treats would also have church staff members working at their homes, including IT employees who would help out with personal computer issues. “Nobody felt like they didn’t deserve to be well-taken-care-of, but it seemed like as the years went by, it was more and more of an entitlement,” he said.
The husband said one church usher at the time started sending a couple of his team members out, while the service was underway every week, to vacuum out and detail Casey Treat’s car. “If there’s people who want to do that as a service to their pastor, that’s different than expecting it. My impression was that that became an expectation.” They said church offerings would frequently fund gifts for Casey and Wendy Treat, including expensive purses, outfits, home furnishings, and custom wheels for Casey’s motorcycle.
Attorney Mell said the church’s physical landscape demonstrated how the Treats’ stature was reflected in the church itself. She said there’s a lot of attention given into “putting the family on a pedestal.” Church members describe Casey Treat’s large personal office in the church as “luxurious” with expensive bicycles, a bathroom with a shower tiled all the way to the top, and “nicely furnished.”
They also describe the green room in the church, which is accessed from a back hallway that leads to Casey Treat’s personal three-car garage. The husband, who asked to remain anonymous, said the senior pastor typically pulled his car into the garage and went into the green room before Sunday services, while church members would take his car to be serviced. “I participated in that for years but it just got stinkier and stinkier in my mind,” the husband noted. “I kept trying to respect them for who they were, that they were a great influence. There were many good things that were taught and done at that church. I don’t regret going there, I just regret that I stood by and participated in a lot of that for as long as I did.”
Sexual Harassment, Exploitation Claims
Janet and Kelly Russell were devout members of Christian Faith Center for 13 years until the alleged hypocrisy, hostile environment, and sexual advances became unbearable, they said.
Kelly Russell served as a driver and personal security for the church for four to five years, acts he saw as a service to his church. Some services, such as gassing up the cars or transporting Treat family members to the airport, were a weekly occurrence, he said. “Only premium gas was ever put in their cars,” he said, noting that payment was always on the church credit card. “I never washed their cars; we weren’t allowed to actually take their cars through the car wash. They had, I believe, their maid hand-wash their cars.”
Casey and Wendy Treat are frequent travelers and preferred a certain transportation routine to and from the airport, he said. At first, Kelly was required to drive the Treats in their personal car, but the couple soon upgraded by allegedly purchasing a transportation SUV strictly for their travels—on the church’s dime, he said. “I thought it was a little much, but I wanted to be in the club,” Kelly said, adding that what originated as a faith service to the church warped into more of an expectation. “So that’s how you got in it.”
Upon landing after their trip, Casey Treat would call to be picked up, but because he allegedly didn’t want to wait for his luggage, two cars were sent—one to take Casey and his wife immediately home, another to wait and pick up the couple’s baggage, Kelly said. The baggage was then delivered to the Treats’ luxury home and placed in the mudroom with all tags removed.
Many church staff and congregation members had been in the church and followed Casey for more than 30 years, which lends credence to the situation, he said. “I think it was more those people who had a bigger impact on me than Casey ever did,” he said.
The turning point for the Russells came when there was allegedly no repercussion from the church on Caleb Treat after his alleged sexual exploitation of Massey, Kelly said. He claims Caleb’s pay continued and no further disciplinary actions were taken, besides transferring him to another CFC campus to preach.
“We overlook things, but then at some point you get the full picture, and you’re just like ‘What are we even doing here?’ ” he said. “My loyalty to [Casey Treat] was very strong. It was the first church I went to, and I put all the changes that happened in my life that were positive [being married, having a son], I put too much of those on Casey. I believed in him, I was loyal to him. So it took a lot of things to break that down.”
This story was first published by the Federal Way Mirror, a sister newspaper of Seattle Weekly. Read the full version online at seattleweekly.com.