Three former Christian Faith Center congregants have brought a lawsuit against Federal Way megachurch Christian Faith Center and the family who owns it, alleging family members utilize church resources as their own and sexually exploit and abuse church members.
Attorney Joan Mell filed the lawsuit on Nov. 29 in King County Superior Court on behalf of her clients, Janet and Kelly Russell and Cliff Massey, whose wife, Leslie, recently settled a sexual harassment suit against the church in October. The plaintiffs allege that church owners Casey and Wendy Treat exploited them for their own personal advantage, among other charges. The couple, along with their son Caleb Treat, his spouse Christa, their daughter Tasha Treat Masitha and her spouse Moses are listed as the defendants in the case and are collectively referred to as the “Treat Family Enterprises.”
The Mirror previously reported that the Russells claimed that a campus pastor sexually assaulted Janet Russell when she was a member at the church. According to the civil suit, in December 2013 she was working in the “crow’s nest” in Moses Masitha’s personal office on the Federal Way campus when he allegedly “groped her rear end as she walked out,” according to court documents. She claims the defendant grabbed her on various dates from 2013-2014.
She later reported the alleged abuse to church leaders, but claims that Casey Treat told the congregation that the rumors were not true and that “Tasha and Moses were ‘good kids,’” according to the suit. The suit claims Casey Treat promoted Moses Masitha to campus pastor of the Mill Creek location, although a church official previously told the Mirror that he was placed on administrative leave while the church conducts an investigation.
The plaintiffs also claim that Caleb Treat pursued a close friendship with Massey while he was sexually involved with Massey’s wife Leslie. In March 2017 when the Masseys left the church, a male staff person came forward and reported that his worship pastor Tasha Treat exploited him sexually, the documents continue.
In response to the civil suit that Leslie Massey filed against Caleb Treat in July 2017, the church “claimed to have sent Caleb Treat to sex therapy, but in reality Caleb took his family and went to another out of state church to preach,” the documents continue. The suit states that Casey Treat recently announced that his son would be returning to the Federal Way church in January 2019 in a leadership role.
The suit lists several causes of action in the plaintiff’s complaint for damages, including the church’s alleged breach of contract. This includes regular and routine cash distributions and lending of credit to Casey and Wendy Treat and their children “upon demand.” Some examples include an approximate $31,000 cash expenditure allegedly taken by Caleb Treat from the the church’s Chief Financial Officer Theresa Fazeka that was used to purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle for his father. At any given time, Casey Treat had approximately 10 Harley Davidson motorcycles valued at approximately $50,000 each, according to the suit.
The church’s alleged breach also includes the Treat family member’s acquisition of personal real estate using church resources.
In addition to an award of damages, the plaintiffs also seek to remove Casey and Wendy Treat, and CFO Fazeka from their leadership roles, or alternatively the dissolution of the church.
Christian Faith Center sent the following statement to the Mirror:
“CFC was only recently provided with a copy of the Complaint. The Complaint included claims of alleged sexual harassment and financial improprieties. These will be addressed in order below.
It is unfortunate that the plaintiffs and their lawyer did not check the facts before making allegations of financial improprieties. They chose to ignore the following information.
CFC has undergone an annual audit for 30 plus years conducted by independent CPA firms. The audits confirm that CFC’s financial affairs are handled in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles.
The Church’s annual budget is reviewed by the Board of Directors, the Auditor and the Church’s bank.
The Church participates in periodic compensation reviews conducted by an outside, independent law firm that specializes in executive and non-profit compensation.
A Committee of the Board of Directors meets to establish the compensation for every member of the Treat family.
There have been a few times in the Church’s history when layoffs or pay cuts have been necessary. The most recent was nearly a decade ago during the great recession. Casey and Wendy Treat were always the first to take a pay cut.
When Casey or Wendy Treat travel to speak at ministries in the US or abroad, approximately 90% of their expenses are paid by the ministry that extended the invitation. At trial, CFC will prove that the plaintiffs’ accounts of the Treat’s alleged personal financial gain are simply not supported by the facts.
CFC’s leaders, pastors and members of its congregation work together in service to the poor and disadvantaged. The following are some examples. Funds for rent and utilities are made available to Church members in need at each of the four campuses. CFC hosts a weekly community dinner for the poor and homeless. CFC partners with Reach Out, an association of churches that helps to feed and house the homeless during the winter months.
Several years ago, reports of alleged inappropriate behavior were made concerning the CFC employee who has been placed on leave. The reports were made to a campus pastor who has since relocated to another state in order to lead his own congregation. The reports were promptly addressed and CFC believed the matter had been handled in a manner that was satisfactory to the complainants.
After the passage of many years, CFC recently received two written complaints concerning the same CFC employee. The events referenced in the complaints appeared to have occurred long ago. CFC promptly retained an experienced, independent outside investigator to interview witnesses. That process is currently underway. The employee who is under investigation has been placed on leave and is not currently preaching or otherwise involved in ministry work at CFC. Janet Russell has declined to be interviewed by the investigator. CFC believes that she is unwilling to do so because of fundamental weaknesses in her allegations. Such weaknesses will ultimately be revealed at trial.
Cliff Massey is the spouse of Leslie Massey. A lawsuit by Leslie Massey against CFC and Caleb Treat was recently settled. Although CFC had compelling evidence that Leslie Massey participated in a consensual extra marital affair with Caleb Treat which was being unfairly recast as harassment, CFC treated her with respect and compassion. She continued to receive her salary for an extended period after she left the workplace. CFC honored her request for reimbursement of expenses incurred for counseling. Similarly, CFC provided financial support to Cliff Massey when he and his family were dealing with the revelation of the relationship between Leslie Massey and Caleb Treat. CFC and the other defendants fully expect to obtain early dismissals of the claims and to prevail in the event that any claim proceeds to trial.
In the wake of the revelation of Caleb Treat’s relationship with Leslie Massey, Caleb Treat withdrew from the Church; underwent intensive personal and marital counseling and relocated with his wife and children to another state.”