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On October 25th, 2015, Valleybrook held a public meeting regarding their financial audit in the wake of the earlier Converge report. This article will report the facts that were learned, and will provide additional statements as made by the presenters. Unless and until there are legal matters to report, this ends the official investigation by Valleybrook.1
There are some caveats that I want to address early on. Firstly, I was misinformed of the time of the meeting, so I missed the first 15 minutes. Secondly, I recorded the audio for the entire presentation, but I was later respectfully approached by Valleybrook to ask why I had recorded it when they asked not to at the beginning. Well, I had missed that. So I have no bad feelings about not posting the audio.2
Thirdly, as a result of deciding to report on the financial meeting, I ended up having some meetings and communications with a couple of current Valleybrook leaders. This may come as a big surprise to some people, but I didn’t want any new article to harm the rebuilding effort at Valleybrook. So I want to take a moment and make my stance on the current state of things very clearly:
Truly terrible, abusive, manipulative, unethical, and illegal acts occurred under the leadership of Doug Lebsack (and as you’ll come to find out, Mary Clark) These individuals are no longer at Valleybrook, and haven’t been for several months now. There is a Transitional Leadership Team (TLT) in place right now, and they are working to move Valleybrook forward to be a good representation of Christ’s church. Where I have been critical of Valleybrook in the past, I no longer have those qualms. Valleybrook is moving forward, and therefore we find ourselves on the same side.
I really want to hammer that home as much as possible: maybe you’re a new UWEC freshman this year and you’ve been looking for a church to go to. “Well, I shouldn’t go to Valleybrook, because there has been all that stuff in the news and online about them,” you might think. Yes, there has been all that stuff in the news and online about them, but it’s historical now. Valleybrook is moving forward, and they’re not living in the past. You don’t need my permission to go anywhere, but if you’re looking for some assurance, then yes, I believe that Valleybrook is safe to go to.
This is really important to note: Valleybrook doesn’t “approve of” or “endorse” this article, or this site. While I did show this article to a couple of Valleybrook leaders prior to posting it, it’s still not “with their blessing” that I post this. Does that make sense? What I’m really trying to get across is the legality of the matter, that the new Valleybrook church and I aren’t in “cahoots,” they’re not feeding me information, and they’re not censoring me. This website is my own, and Valleybrook is only involved in it insofar as the content on this website is 99.99% about Valleybrook’s former leaders.
Okay, that’s out of the way. Now to the financial report:
For background information, the financial audit was done in response to allegations and evidence of financial misconduct by the former Lead Pastor Doug Lebsack and former Executive Pastor, Mary Clark. In the original report, not many specifics were given regarding finances other than the indication that there was serious mismanagement of money.3
It seems to me, that ended up being very, very true.
The following is a list of some of the findings from the financial audit, conducted by WipFli. In an effort to provide as many details as possible, but protect any potential legal action by Valleybrook, some numbers are grouped into a larger sum.
For example, take these imaginary figures:
Charge A: $500
Charge B: $750
Charge C: $250
I would summarize this to:
Total Charges: $1,500
And so to begin the list:
- Between January 2014 and March 20154, Doug’s credit card and Mary’s credit card had combined charges of more than $350 to their Valleybrook credit cards for services like Hulu and iTunes. (Valleybrook has not made a statement regarding those charges and possible ties to ministry)
Between January 2014 and March 2015, 6 different staff members used their Valleybrook credit cards for dining out, totaling more than $6,000
Between 2008 and 2014, slightly under $6,500 was taken from church funds to pay parking tickets. Many payments were made out to the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, which by my own personal observation is where Mary Clark was taking classes while on staff at Valleybrook.
Between January 2014 and March 2015, slightly under $30,000 was paid to Verizon Wireless for 16 lines of cellphone service, including service for Doug’s children, upgrade fees, and data charges. It appears that several checks between $50 and $65 each, when traced back to the originating bank and the corresponding memo, were written by Doug as reimbursements for his children’s phone services.
Between April 2013 and March 2015, untimely payments on credit caused charges of over $7,500 in late fees.
Several notices came from the IRS to seize property if amounts due continued to go unpaid. One example statement shown was for over $12,000 in unpaid fees.5
Several bags of cash were found in various locations in Mary Clark’s office following her resignation, totaling more than $250. Some were labeled as “Kids Offering” or as donations to a charity that had been collected during offering. Additionally, several un-cashed checks were found. Total cash/checks found were over $700.
A “Lead Pastor Discretionary” account in QuickBooks showed roughly $22,500 in discretionary spending. Among these charges were $11,000 in VISA charges and a $1,000 bonus to Mary Clark for a college graduation bonus.
Valleybrook closed their “scripted” meeting with a legal statement from their lawyer. It is written thusly:
In concert with Bryan Symes at Ruder Ware, LLSC, Valleybrook Church is considering the full range of legal options in connections with Valleybrook’s former leadership.
While this process plays out, to best protect the Church’s interest and maintain attorney-client privilege, we have been instructed to refrain from commenting about legal issues during the pendency of the matter.
Because of this statement, I haven’t probed Valleybrook leadership about legal matters at all. I definitely respect their “right to remain silent,” if you will, and so I personally am taking this as, “If there’s something to pursue, they’re considering pursuing it.” And I think that’s fair for now.
Let’s talk about some implications, because there are quite a few. I pose these as questions for you to reconcile with yourself. I don’t necessarily have “the answer” to any particular question. But here are some things for you, the reader, to consider in light of the information you know now between this and the Converge Report:
- Considering all the fees paid for interest and late penalty payments when there was money in the accounts to pay in full on time, would this be considered a mismanagement of godly resources? The same goes for the late payment of taxes due. People were giving sacrificially to Valleybrook with the expectation of their money being used wisely within ministry related purposes. Shouldn’t the Church be a place of the highest integrity? Wouldn’t these kinds of transactions in the business world get people fired?
Is it not a disrespectful use of church money to pay out parking tickets (several hundreds of dollars) simply because staff could not take the time or effort to follow the laws like everyone else? Is it up to the congregants to pay those tickets without ever having choice?
Is it typical of a lead pastor of any church to have a $20,000+ “discretionary fund” where he does not have to be accountable for the use of it?
Why did Doug do this? Why did he treat Valleybrook money as his own personal checking account? Could it be because he was building loyalty through the financial gain to others as entrapment? Also, making others “dirty” right along with him so he is not the only one guilty of mismanagement/theft/disrespect? Is it considered wise or godly to use church funds without review, discussion or disclosure that were designated for ministry purposes to better one’s life style instead?
Mary was in charge of finances, reporting directly (and apparently only) to Doug, and yes, a business person like Mary would have been fired. Why didn’t Doug fire or reassign her? His supervisory role would seem to dictate that he was responsible for making sure her job duties were carried out or proper discipline received.
Doesn’t the fact that there were no written policies points to larger leadership issue?
Even forensic accountants couldn’t completely reconcile the mess of files and (sometimes lackthereof) paper trails that were supposedly organized by Mary Clark, under the supervision and direction of Doug Lebsack.
Like I said, I don’t have the answers to these, necessarily, but I have my opinions. You’ll likely have yours. Let’s leave it at that, since everyone needs to reconcile things for themselves.
Valleybrook is moving in a great direction, I think, and as I’ve mentioned already. A lot of these really horrible activities won’t be able to go on anymore, because they’ve implemented the checks and balances that should have been there the whole time.
As for me, this closes the book for the most part. If legal proceedings ever happen, I’ll cover that. If I learn more stuff or uncover more things from the past that ought not be forgotten lest they happen again, I’ll cover that. And, when I inevitably get around to asking Grant if I can post his personal story, if he says I can, I’ll post that.
Otherwise, this is history now. As we’ve seen, there may be consequences for some people because of this history, but it’s history. It’s not still going on at Valleybrook. But it’s really important that we all remain vigilent that nothing like this happens again. Not in Grapevine, Texas, and certainly not again in Eau Claire.6
Thanks, everyone, for reading and sharing these stories so that awareness can be spread about dangerous acts like these.
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- Which means that from here on out, this site will likely be reporting information from the past. If there’s legal action, I will be covering that, but that’s all the “new stuff” that is possibly expected to happen. ↩
- And trust me, it’s a lot of numbers, so you’ll likely be thankful to just be able to read this article instead of listen to my almost 2 hour recording. ↩
- My understanding is that the CIT report merely “recommended” an audit more-or-less for the peace of mind of congregants, so they’d know for sure if things were OK… but as soon as they got into the review process it was apparent more digging needed to be done. ↩
- March 2015 is when all resignations were effective. Grant, Doug, and Nate resigned in February. ↩
- Okay I was confused about this and I asked for some clarification: why did Valleybrook owe the IRS anything if they were non-profit? Turns out, this was a failure to pay government taxes on wages, which is still necessary. So for example, on your check you’ll see an amount taken out to FICA. These taxes weren’t paid. Additionally, several warnings were sent to Valleybrook with attention to Mary Clark before the seizure notices started coming in the mail. ↩
- A “splinter cell” of Valleybrook has formed a “church” called Ethos, and the most up to date information I can find is that they meet on the UWEC campus. Mary Clark is involved (my understanding is she is the pastor) in it, along with other people deeply involved in some of these “behind-the-scenes” underhanded activities. When questioned about what Doug, Nate, and Mary were now up to during a brief Q&A session at the end of the financial meeting, Valleybrook said, “Yes, we are very concerned about what Doug, Nate, and Mary are doing now.” Just as a reminder, Doug has started a new cult in Grapevine, Texas called “The Narrow Pathway,” and I’ve written about it here. ↩