South Sound News

Misuse of money, sexual exploitation, among allegations in latest lawsuit against Federal Way church

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — Another lawsuit was filed Friday against a megachurch in Federal Way.

That lawsuit names the Christian Faith Center, founders Casey and Wendy Treat, and among other defendants, it also includes a pastor at the church who the lawsuit says “sexually exploited” members there.

“It’s horrific, it's gross - the sexual exploitation and doing nothing about it,” said Joan Mell, the attorney representing Kelly and Janet Russell.

The lawsuit alleges Pastor Moses Masitha “grabbed Janet Russell, sliding his hands down her back and squeezing her rear end.”

“It was probably five or six times with the groping and comments. He'd call me into his office and ask for different things,” Janet Russell said.

“I froze. I didn't know what to do. I'd never been in a position where a pastor had done that to me before. My mind was racing. Who do I tell? Do they believe me?” she said.

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​That was five years ago.

“It took that long for me to come forward and even talk about it,” Russell said. “It’s a shaming process that happens. And you almost feel like people won't want anything to do with you if you speak your truth,” she said tearing up.

Masitha is still listed under the church's leadership section on the site, and there are videos of him preaching from earlier this fall.

“I'm very concerned that he could be doing this to other women still,” Russell said.

In a statement about Masitha, the church said this in a statement:

“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.”

Russell said when she saw Masitha still preaching in the fall, she and her husband couldn’t bear it any longer and left the church in late September.

"That’s why we're coming forward. Because we hope no other family will have to experience this again. Ever,” Russell said.

The allegations in the lawsuit accuses other members of the Treat family as well.

“CFC’s breach includes, but is not limited to, Caleb Treat, Tasha Treat, and Moses Masitha exploiting parishioners and employees for their own personal sexual gratification and empowerment,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit also accuses the church founders of turning a blind eye to what was happening.

“Casey and Wendy Treat have allowed their family to engage in predatory practices to include sexual exploitation without prompt and remedial action,” it reads.

In the fall of 2017, KIRO7’s Deedee Sun also covered another lawsuit that focused on Caleb Treat – the church founders’ son.

Court documents from that case said over years, "Caleb D. Treat repeatedly preyed upon female employees and church members” but the church "failed to take effective action."

That lawsuit settled a few weeks ago for an undisclosed amount.

This new, latest lawsuit also accuses the CFC and founders of misusing the tithes from parishioners.

“They have multiple homes. The way they dress is Louis Vuitton, they fly first class, have 10 Harleys, it's extraordinary,” Mrs. Russell said.

The Russells said they have donated 10 percent of their income for years to the church, along with many other parishioners.

“This is really a case against Casey and Wendy Treat and the Treat enterprise,” Mell said.

Russell says looking back, there were other signs that something was wrong.

“I looked up that word after we left, and the description of what a ‘cult’ is, is how I'd describe Christian Faith Center,” she said.

“The church has told us if you're not with us, if you're against us. You're gone. You have to realize all those relationships, they're gone,” said Kelly Russell.

Janet attended the church for eight years. Her husband, 13.

"Knowing what you knew, was it still difficult to break ties?” KIRO7’s Deedee Sun asked.

“It’s is very, very difficult. I care for Casey very deeply, still. I love Casey,” Kelly Russell said. “He married us,” he said.

But from faith and friendship - the Russells say they now feel forsaken.

“We’re really hurt. Really hurt by this,” Janet Russell said.

They want people to know what it's like inside this church, but say above all they hope to bring change.

“I'm trying to give the voice to the other women who are still out there, who are still figuring out how to heal,” Janet Russell said. “There will be justice, and that's our hope,” she said.

Here’s the CFC’s full statement as of Friday afternoon:

CFC has not been provided with a copy of the Complaint. It has seen only statements from three individuals in a recent newspaper article. The statements 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.

CFC understands that Leslie Massey may seek to be a plaintiff in the new lawsuit. Leslie Massey recently entered into a binding settlement, executed a comprehensive release of her legal claims and dismissed her lawsuit against CFC and Caleb Treat with prejudice. CFC will seek the immediate dismissal of any new lawsuit she brings against it.

In the recently concluded lawsuit, Ms. Massey had alleged that she was harassed by Caleb Treat, the adult son of Casey and Wendy Treat. In the course of the lawsuit, CFC obtained emails and text messages written by Leslie Massey which were consistent with the existence of a mutual, consensual extramarital affair between Leslie Massey and Caleb Treat, both adults. CFC believes that this evidence lead Leslie Massey to settle the lawsuit rather than face the prospect of losing at trial.

CFC treated Leslie Massey with compassion and respect even as it defended itself against her claims. Leslie Massey continued to receive a salary for many months following her departure from the workplace. CFC also agreed to her request for reimbursement of counseling expenses.

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.