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 Fircrest 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 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.”
One of the plaintiffs in the case includes Leslie Massey, who was 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 has launched their 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 Fazeka 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 Mirror during the interview. However, they asked to remain anonymous due to fear of potential backlash from Christian Faith Center towards 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,” he said.
However, the husband said the situation got more difficult when the church would go through cyclic periods where there was a lack of funds and they would lay off employees to compensate for that.
“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 of 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 the 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 said when Treat’s three children became adults, they quickly moved them into roles where they were on the stage in praise and worship roles. He added 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 goes against the church as being somebody who is against God, the husband said.
The 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 said 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 where they both only received 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 Treat’s salaries were, and he could only base it on the type of cars, homes and lifestyles the family members had.
According to King County property records, Casey and Wendy treat own an 8,100-square-foot luxury home in Kent valued over $1 million, which sits on an approximately 75,000-square-foot lot. Their home includes five bedrooms, seven bathrooms and an indoor racquetball court. The couple also owns four adjoining parcels of land next to their home along Lake Fenwick. According to property records, two of the properties along with their Kent home are listed in their name, and the other two parcels are listed under 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 the church, as part of the Treat’s pay package, leased them new vehicles — including Mercedes Benz and other luxury vehicles.
He said the Treat’s 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 of their ushers 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 Treat’s motorcycle.
Attorney Mell said the church’s physical landscape demonstrated how the Treat’s 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 assault 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 the 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 Russell 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 Russell said, adding 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 Russell said. The baggage was then delivered to the Treat’s luxury home and placed in the mudroom with all tags removed.
Many of the 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 Russell 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.”
It’s worse than one can even imagine on the inside, Kelly Russell said.
But for Janet Russell, her reasoning was a bit more personal, she said.
She recently attempted to file charges against a campus pastor for sexual assault, but the statute of limitations for reporting has ran out, she said. After describing the incidents to a police officer, she was told the incident would be considered fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation.
The man who allegedly sexually assaulted Janet was previously a pastor at the Federal Way campus, and is the current pastor at other Christian Faith locations; a Treat technique of allegedly moving people around to various church locations is their form of punishment, but in reality a promotion, Janet Russell said.
She claims church staff knowingly put the pastor in charge of the very women that came forward about his alleged sexual assault attempts.
“There’s so many women who have been hurt, it’s just heartbreaking for me to hear these women who really came forward and wanted change. They came forward to these pastors asking for help and nothing was done expect for ‘You must be silenced,’” Janet Russell said with a quivering voice as she began to explain her own experience.
She served and worked in the church as a deacon, service pastor and service coordinator among other positions.
“[The pastor] will call you to his office or come in close and then wrap his arms around you and grab your butt, like with me it was putting his arms around me and grabbing very low butt … and squeezing and holding,” she said. “In my instance, I pushed him away and he just kept doing it. Then it’s the sexual comments, it’s the sexual jokes or him talking about having sex with his wife or just stuff like that.”
In her letter to the church board, Janet Russell stated her hope is “to bring to your attention the grave injustices and in my opinion downright criminal behaviors that are allowed to occur under the watch of Pastor Casey, Pastor Wendy, Theresa Fazekas, and other CFC leadership.”
Janet Russell was on staff at the church for about a year and over the course of nearly eight months, she can recall about five or six times the pastor allegedly “groped, accosted and made crude sexual comments” to her, she wrote in the letter.
“For me, I would describe him as a predator,” she told the Mirror. “Because that style of trying to push the envelope and basically going after anybody that is around him that he has access to and power and authority over is that predator style.”
She said the number of women the campus pastor in question has allegedly sexually assaulted is close to 30 as more have come forward with their stories.
Although a third party investigation is going on, Casey Treat allegedly has all the control of how the church receives the information from the reports, she said.
“Casey has this power where he goes in front of the congregation because he has the pulpit, the stage in front of thousands of people, and he’ll make sarcastic comments, like ‘This is fake news,’ ‘The rumors aren’t true,’ ‘They’re just out for money,’” she said. “He has this stage to manipulate everybody into believing this.”
Yet, Casey Treat does the complete opposite for his son, Kelly Russell said, claiming the senior pastor encourages the congregation to forgive Caleb Treat and often preaches that everybody makes mistakes.
“He told the congregation that Caleb’s calling is irrevocable,” Janet Russell said.
This past week, the Christian Faith Center staff was allegedly told Caleb Treat was hired back on staff and will return in January as a consultant, or pastor of church planting, Janet Russell said.
She added the Treats have all the power and control, which continues the cycle of alleged abuse allowance. She claims he called the women “promiscuous” at a women’s congregation meeting.
About six weeks ago, Janet Russell wrote a letter to a board member of the church outlining her traumatic experience, but she said Casey Treat is not allowing this information to be shared with other board members, the board member told her.
The board member’s daughter-in-law had also been allegedly assaulted by the same pastor who Janet Russell claims assaulted her, Kelly Russell said.
“When [the pastor] sexually assaulted me, I knew what would happen,” she said. “Because of the history of the church. There’s no systems in place where you can go to human resources because the person who’s in charge of human resources is also the chief financial officer, Theresa Fazekas, and she has a fight in the game of keeping it all under wraps.”
Janet Russell didn’t tell anyone about the alleged misconduct due to known repercussions, until one day she was telling her husband about the 10 women who came forward a few years prior. Kelly Russell recalls asking if these stories are true to which his wife said: “It’s true, it happened to me.”
Because of the culture of the church, Kelly Russell remembers his first thought.
“As crazy as it might sound, the first thing I thought about was ‘OK, can we keep this quiet?’” he said, noting his reaction of “selfishness” stemmed from fear of being exiled from their church family. “I didn’t want to lose what I had. I had been telling people over so many years ‘I’ll never leave this church, as long as Casey’s in charge, I’ll never leave.’”
As the pastor in question was moved to another campus, the alleged out-of-sight and out-of-mind mentality helped the Russell’s healing process, he said.
When Caleb Treat was removed from the Federal Way campus due to his misconduct, the other pastor was brought back to the Federal Way campus to teach, and the Russell’s decided they had to leave, they told the Mirror.
Many people the couple looked up to and respected began leaving the church, which made them realize others were fed-up too.
Many people tried to give “off-ramps” for Casey Treat as he travelled down the “wrong path” of ignoring the problems within the church, Janet said.
But talking to the senior pastor one-on-one is not an option, Janet Russell said.
“It’s a hostile environment of control,” she said. “I was taught my place the very first staff meeting … They teach you where you stand.”
When a question was asked at the meeting and Janet Russell said she raised her hand to offer input, Wendy Treat allegedly told her, “You don’t talk, this is not your place to talk.”
The people who were allowed to talk were close to the Treat family in the church.
Their own alleged incidents and knowledge of other’s experiences left the couple wondering if the entirety of Christian Faith Center is a scam to put money in the Treat’s pockets, Kelly Russell said.
It takes years to get through the layers of the church to the inner circle, but once you say or do the wrong thing, there is a major fear of backlash, Janet Russell said. She claims people are discouraged from contacting those who leave the church and discouraged from visiting any other churches.
A sure-fire way to out yourself is to be pictured or tagged on social media with anyone who is on the wrong terms with the church, Kelly Russell added.
“It was the first church I had ever been a part of, so I didn’t know any different,” Janet Russell said when asked if the church environment ever felt like a cult. “If I [had] looked up what that is, I would say yes.”
Janet Russell hopes her call for justice will help the other women who may be silently struggling within the Christian Faith Center.
“Now I’m finally getting my voice, some women haven’t found their voice yet,” she said. “I’m hoping this helps spur their courage to come forward and be brave.”
Church is supposed to be a safe haven for all, she added.
“I’m coming forward and I’m trying to do this because I’m trying to bring hope to people who have lost hope … and I’m also trying to protect other people. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” she said. “Because it shouldn’t happen in church. That’s the last place this should happen. Church is supposed to be safe and it’s supposed to be the place you come for healing and hope, and that is just the opposite of what’s occurring.”
After 13 years, Kelly and Janet decided to leave the church earlier this year.
According to a recent email sent to the Christian Faith congregation regarding Janet Russell’s email to the board, church CFO Fazekas said they were taking steps to look into the allegations brought forward.
The email reads in part, “Casey and Wendy have recused themselves from the matter. Our Board members are giving their counsel, an experienced third party investigator has been hired, and we have had the people accused take a leave of absence.”
She said in the email the church was dealing with the matter in a biblical and legal way, and urged everyone to remember a bible verse from Ephesians 6:12.
“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.”
Katie Coronado told the Mirror while she was a staff member and parishioner at the church, she was also subject to alleged sexual harassment, assault and fear by one of the pastors. Coronado said she and her husband were members of the church for about 18 years, and left about one to two years ago.
She and her husband both worked as service pastors and deacons for the church, and were also international ministry leaders there, she said. She also worked for the church as a receptionist.
Coronado claims her experience with the same pastor who allegedly assaulted Janet Russell started with sexual slurs and comments, increasing to grabbing and assaulting her.
“There was a time when he asked me to come into his office, to talk about the Hispanic ministry that we were leading,” she said.
After the talk when they were saying goodbye, Coronado went to hug him since she and her husband knew him as a friend.
“He leaned in to give me a hug and he grabbed my butt, and I pushed him away and said ‘What are you doing?’, and he grabs hold of my arm like he wasn’t gonna let me go and I physically had to break away to get out of the room,” she said.
The pastor was blatant and open about the alleged sexual harassment, Coronado said.
“He came up to me when no one was in the immediate area, came around to where I was sitting, bent over, and put his arm around my waist and grab my waist and my stomach.”
She added he would also make comments to her telling her he wanted to kiss her, that “he could make her toes curls,” as well as inappropriate comments about his sex life with his wife.
Coronado never reported this to anyone in the church, because she and her husband had seen others allegedly ostracized from bringing things like this forward to the Treats.
“They would either fire people, or basically make them leave,” she said.
About six months after the alleged incidents with the pastor began, Coronado said she was out at lunch with a friend when it came to her attention that both her friend and another woman had been allegedly sexually assaulted by him.
The lead pastor at the time then asked the women to come forward and said he was conducting an internal investigation into the allegations against the pastor, Coronado said. In total, about eight or nine women came forward to the pastor, she said.
During the investigation the pastor who allegedly assaulted the women was asked to step down, which he did for about a week, she said. He was quickly transferred to be a pastor at another Christian Faith church, however, and shortly after this Coronado and her husband left, she said.
Despite the number of women who came forward, Coronado said nothing was done.
“It’s like they’re accountable to no one,” she said.
Coronado said the whole feeling she got from the situation was as long as you’re a member of the Treat family, you can do anything you want.
“I just hope something comes out of this.” She said, “There are so many women that have been hurt by this family… People that have been through this in the past, where nothing’s been done, you just don’t have a lot of hope that something will be done.”
Massey, who just settled a civil suit against Caleb Treat, is also part of the newer lawsuit filed against the Treat family. She is speaking out against the alleged sexual assault, corruption and abuse by the Treat family that she faced and witnessed during her time as a parishioner.
Massey was a member of the church for 14 years, and was later hired on as staff around 2013 or 2014, she said. She started working in the cafe part-time, eventually moving on to working as an HR assistant for Fazekas.
While she was a member, Massey said she was close friends with the Treat family, spending holidays and taking vacations with them. After starting work at the church, though, she said unwanted attentions from Caleb Treat started.
“I started noticing he was constantly wherever I was,” she said.
She claims he started texting her more, and began to show interest in anything she was interested in. It was around this increased attention Massey started to feel uncomfortable, so being close friends with the family she approached Caleb Treat’s wife.
“I knew his background, so I was very leery of him in the first place,” Massey said, “So I went to his wife, told her what was going on, she confronted it, nothing really happened.”
So instead Massey said she tried to transition out of her position, thinking that if Casey Treat was no longer her boss, the attentions would stop when she left.
That is when she took on her assistant role to Fazekas, but Massey said Caleb Treat did not stop his unwanted pursuit.
At the start of the situation, Massey said he would constantly tell her she was safe with him, and that neither one of them could tell anyone else what was happening because it was “just a fun thing,” she said.
Then it began to progress into trying to wedge himself between Massey and her husband by allegedly pointing out how unbelievable he thought it was that Massey’s husband found her love of reading annoying, she said.
“It was just these little avenues.” Massey said, “He would work his way into every aspect of my life.”
For a while Massey said it felt like she had some control over the little stuff Caleb Treat used to do, but then he allegedly started stretching his control over Massey to her husband and her job.
“It went over to, ‘You’re over hospitality, we need you in the green room for this, hey I need you to designed the green room, hey meet me in the green room’, and so he would use his power, like you have to design the green room because it’s your job, you have to come over to my house and throw a party because that’s your job,” Massey said.
Massey didn’t know who to turn to, knowing that if she brought this up to the rest of the Treat family she would be pushed aside and discarded, she said.
“I didn’t have a family besides them, so I thought that if I could just maneuver myself around this, he would go away.”
She went to his wife twice about his unwanted advances to no avail, she said.
Even within the church Massey felt like she had no one to lean on.
“I was like, ‘How can these people not see what he’s doing, he’s constantly in my space,” she said.
Massey got to a point where she thought no one would help her, and she said she remembers thinking, “If I just get it [physical intimacy] over with, he’ll leave me alone.”
Now that she can look back at the situation, she said, she can see that Caleb Treat had all the power in the situation, no matter what she did. He even went so far as to offer the church to help put her through school, though she and her husband had discussed the poor timing due to them having four young children.
“It turned into a relationship of basically, him using his power over me. I got to a point of where I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’, and he would use his power against me,” she said.
Massey said he would tell her things like no one would believe her if she tried to tell anyone. She said on many occasions he would come into her cubicle at work and grope her, or unbutton buttons or unzip zippers on her tops.
She claims he would also constantly try to kiss her under the guise of joking around.
“He would use any opportunity to touch me.” Massey said, “It was very sickening.”
Massey and her family finally left the church around March 2016 after the situation with Caleb Treat became public knowledge.
When her husband found out, Massey said her first instinct was to keep quiet about the situation and leave the church without ruffling any feathers, because she was afraid of what would happen otherwise. However, after listening to Caleb Treat allegedly lying about what happened and blaming her, she decided to write a letter describing what she wanted from the church.
“Asking the church to put me and my family through counselling, asking for six-month paid leave, and some other things and they agreed to giving me six months and … a dollar amount for counselling but not for my whole family,” Massey said.
This was separate from the recent settlement, she said.
Looking back on the situation now, Massey thinks Caleb Treat saw her as a challenge because she told him she knew about his past and wasn’t going to fall for his charms.
“After the fact, [his wife] had told my friend… [Caleb’s] words were ‘It’s just a game, it’s just all about power and how long it will take for me to get these girls to give their bodies to me,’ is basically what he told his wife,” Massey said.
Hearing that is what set her resolve about fighting against the Treat family, she said.