Pursuing Justice

Tales from the Cult is a website dedicated to preserving important artifacts from a church in Eau Claire where horrific spiritual abuse took place over several years. If you haven’t read the About This Site page, please do so before reading any article here.

Additional Note for this Article:

About a year ago, this website published A Look at Current Valleybrook Leadership which was written by a former member of the Valleybrook community. This article is written by another former member of the Valleybrook community who helped spearhead the process of bringing legal action against Doug Lebsack and Mary Clark. As always, all claims have been vetted and verified by myself and some other former members of the Valleybrook community who are familiar with this particular topic.

Criminal Possibilities:
After learning of Valleybrook’s decision not to pursue any legal action against former pastors for possible financial crimes, a group of several previous members explored options for justice. The reasons were:

  1. To protect future victimization of others by creating a legal trail that would minimize the ability of the allegedly abusive pastors to harm others. If a conviction resulted, it would show up on background checks that are commonly used in churches and other agencies, as well as in general information searches.

  2. To deter others from trying to attempt financially fraudulent activities in churches by demonstrating that there are consequences; the result being that resources donated in good faith are used for legitimate ministry purposes.

  3. To bring about justice for the many people who were abused spiritually, financially, psychologically, and emotionally at Valleybrook by offering an additional layer to their healing. We do not believe that financial abuse is the most devastating type, but it is one of the only areas for any legal recourse. It is also the easiest to prove because numbers are objective.

  4. To show that while forgiveness is one of the most important facets of Christianity, it doesn’t mean that we excuse criminal acts and shield offenders from accountability and consequences.

  5. To provide past donors access to the information that Valleybrook, while claiming to be transparent, withheld.

The first approach was to bring a summary of financial information, compiled from the notes taken by many in attendance at Valleybrook’s financial meeting, to the Eau Claire Police Department. A former member who now lives out of state called the police department to make sure that a complaint could be filed anonymously, due to the collective experiences of abuse and harassment experienced by group members. While all parties were willing to be identified at some point, they preferred to proceed unnamed if possible due to fear of retribution by both the former pastors and their followers, as well as the current leaders of Valleybrook Church, including members of the Transitional Leadership Team (TLT). The TLT had actually participated in some harassment toward people who disagreed with their decision.

After the initial call, a local party delivered a binder of information to the Eau Claire Police Department. The detective who received the information approached the Eau Claire District Attorney office and was given permission to investigate. To clarify, both the ECPD and the ECDA thought this was a case worthy of a criminal investigation. They were willing to dedicate law enforcement and court resources to this situation. The detective opened a case.1

One of the reporting parties spoke with the detective, who explained what would happen. He said that, while he was sympathetic to the many people who were involved in bringing this complaint to the ECPD, as individuals we were not the legal victim. We had given money to Valleybrook, and it was allegedly stolen from Valleybrook. It went from our pocket to theirs, and if it was stolen it was out of their pocket, not ours. He understood our position, but explained that legally we had no recourse. Only Valleybrook had the position of being the legal victim and only they could proceed with a criminal investigation against the former pastors. He said he would contact them to let them know it was an option and the ECPD was ready to proceed.

The individual representing the group of former Valleybrook members also discussed the investigative process with the detective. The police investigation could uncover information that Valleybrook’s internal investigation could not, because the PD would have access to subpoenas. Their computer experts could attempt to recover information that Doug Lebsack and Mary Clark had both admitted to deleting; Doug claiming it was inadvertent, and Mary claiming it was out of anger.2 They would be able to do a much more thorough investigation. The reporting party specifically asked if Valleybrook would have any financial obligation for this investigation and the answer was NO. Other than manpower required for cooperating with the detective, there would be no financial cost to Valleybrook. If the District Attorney decided the detective built a compelling case with the information available, it would become a criminal matter prosecuted by the State of Wisconsin.

The detective said he could arrest someone for probable cause, but the court process would determine guilt and consequence. Obviously, it would be more complicated if one of the defendants was out of state, but even then there were options.

The detective contacted Bryan Symes, Valleybrook’s legal representation from Ruder Ware in early February, 2016. Mr. Symes said he would call the detective back to schedule an appointment. According to the detective, he also mentioned that Valleybrook didn’t want to press civil charges because of the cost.

This comment was interesting since Valleybrook had just distributed a letter claiming their decision not to pursue legal action was a “directive from God.” The Transitional Leadership Team wrote 4 paragraphs about how “moving forward” was the clear biblical response. They did write one phrase that indicated there were other, possibly non-spiritual reasons “…we were aware of some practical kinds of considerations that only further confirmed for us the biblical directive to NOT bring suit.” Expense was never mentioned. Lack of evidence was never mentioned either, although it was talked about months later. Another additional “consideration” might have been related to a rumor about possible litigation from the accused pastors. Which would have been an interesting deterrent since Valleybrook leadership claimed on stage their faith in, dependence on, and trust in God. But perhaps a possible lawsuit loomed larger…

Bryan Symes did not schedule an appointment. The detective followed up with him 2 months later and at the beginning of April they chose April 20th, 2016 as an appointment date. Bryan Symes and two members of the TLT from Valleybrook were scheduled to meet with the detective. In an e-mail exchange to establish the meeting time, Bryan Symes wrote: “Valleybrook does desire to put this behind them to the extent possible.” When the detective asked for the information below, and explained that it was Valleybrook’s choice to participate, Valleybrook leadership cancelled the meeting. The case was closed on April 18, 2016.

This is what the detective initially requested from Valleybrook:

  1. A list of potential witnesses to interview, specifically those with first-hand knowledge of the alleged theft.

  2. A designated liaison for me, which would be someone who could answer financial questions and confirm whether any specific transaction would be authorized or not.

  3. Specific allegations of theft….when, how, how much, where, who benefited, etc.

  4. How far back should the investigation go? It is not uncommon that embezzlement starts far earlier than an initial examination shows.

  5. A documented complaint, whether written or typed, outlining the chronology of events.

Next Steps—Civil Options for Justice

The idea of Christians bringing forth a lawsuit is controversial, especially since Valleybrook claimed it would go against a “directive from God” in 1 Corinthians 6. Anyone who cares to do a more in-depth study on that passage will see there are many caveats and that a “dispute” between brothers is not necessarily the same as embezzlement by a pastor—financial fraud is criminal behavior. And since the former pastors refused to engage with Valleybrook, it is a stretch to call them a brother or sister and expect the issue to be resolved satisfactorily within the church. The issue was carefully studied and considered, and this group felt that allowing injustice to prevail is not consistent with important themes of the bible, and that 1 Corinthians 6 does not prohibit action in this situation.

Because Valleybrook seemed ambivalent about cooperating with a police investigation (based on the fact that their attorney did not initiate an appointment with the detective) the group of former Valleybrook members began to explore the possibility of pursuing civil litigation even before the criminal case was closed. The goals listed at the beginning of this summary were the same. Members of the group planned to donate any monies recovered.

Researching which area of law addresses lawsuits against a church or former pastors was an interesting journey! We contacted the law firm that is representing victims of the Catholic Church sexual abuse cover-up. We asked for referrals from attorneys with whom we had relationships. We ended up scheduling an appointment with a local attorney who has experience with church-related issues. This attorney normally charges $450/hr, but he met with the representatives of the group for 1.5 hours at no cost because he “shares their concerns, grief, and pain.” We had sent in the same summary that was presented to the Eau Claire Police Department and he and a legal aide reviewed it before our meeting on April 14, 2016.

Unfortunately the attorney delivered the same information as the detective: We as former donors to Valleybrook are not the legal victim. Once again, Valleybrook is the only one to be considered as the potentially defrauded party.

All possibilities were discussed—suing the overseers for their lack of any sort of control of the finances. This group did not have the legal standing to do that (same reason as above), and it is likely that the overseers would have statutory immunity anyway. What about the possibility of a lawsuit against Doug Lebsack and Mary Clark? Financially, same story—we are not the correct party to do so. And in either case, the attorney said it is unethical for him to charge money to pursue litigation if there is not a high likelihood of collectability on the other end. Many scenarios were asked about, and the same legal counsel was given that any case brought forth by this group would likely be dismissed. Not because Doug and Mary were innocent, but because Valleybrook was the only one who had the legal standing to bring suit.

As a side note, while group members were researching litigation options, slander would have been a possible litigable offense. Not every group member experienced this, but we mention for the benefit of those that did. Some states have “pastoral malpractice” laws, but Wisconsin does not.3 New Jersey is considering laws about “predatory alienation,” which would cover what the Hagedorns have experienced with their son Nate. Otherwise there are very few legal protections against spiritual abuse or psychological abuse by a member of the clergy. The attorney explained that because of the “separation of church and state” (not an actual phrase in the constitution, but a legal term), “internal governance of churches is left to churches.”

We, as former members of Valleybrook who sought justice, are sharing our story because we feel it contains information that others should have the ability to know. Valleybrook never publicly discussed the possibility of criminal charges, only “legal action.” Many people assumed that there was nothing Valleybrook could do because they must not have had enough evidence. Others took it as proof that Doug Lebsack and Mary Clark were merely irresponsible, and not fraudulent. Still others said “Well, there weren’t financial guidelines in place, so it’s not really fair to hold Doug and Mary accountable.” The hitch is that Doug Lebsack dismantled the financial accountability that was in place at Valleybrook on his arrival by firing and not replacing the bookkeeper on staff. Internal guidelines aside, there are LAWS and IRS regulations that provide the minimal standards for any non-profit, especially a church, and these appear to have been violated. But it was convenient for Valleybrook to leave people with vague opinions and misconceptions.

We continue to see the ripple effects of the devastation that happened there and want it to be known that while Valleybrook could have pursued criminal charges, they chose not to. They could have pursued justice for all of those harmed. They could have protected others from possible future victimization. They could have allowed the facts to be known rather than allow this prevailing idea of “we’ll never really know what happened.” They could have sent a clear message of responsibility for stewardship so church donors would know the standards of accountability.

And not only did they choose not to, they did everything they could to hide the issue of criminality. As recently as this past month, a former member of the TLT stated that Valleybrook had arranged for and completed an investigation. When asked “by whom?” because an internal investigation is NOT the same as a criminal investigation, he declined to answer and removed his comment. He was being dishonest.

Given the information revealed by Valleybrook, there appears to be a high likelihood of fraud, embezzlement, and/or theft committed by Doug Lebsack and Mary Clark. And Valleybrook did not do everything they could to make it right, they chose instead to “put this behind them to the extent possible.” And that is that.

So indeed, that is that. In all honesty, the way Valleybrook has handled the process of justice after Doug fled the area has made me extremely angry. Some readers may remember when I posted An Update Before the Financial Article I said that I had taken an audio recording of the meeting (not having heard them ask that no recordings be made, as I arrived to the meeting about 15 minutes late) and that a member of the Transitional Leadership Team at Valleybrook contacted me and requested I not post it. That individual’s justification to me was, and I quote from the message I received from them, “There are specific legal reasons we asked for the meeting to not be recorded. If you are insistent on helping those you say you are against, I can’t change that. But, know that is what you are doing.” And so that individual, plus another member of the TLT, and I met a few blocks down from Valleybrook and we talked about the financial article that I was going to post. They made it clear that if I were to post that audio, it would hurt their legal options as they pursued legal action.

Well as you can see, that was just a bald-faced lie to protect Valleybrook’s image. I deleted the audio in good faith that they would be pursuing legal action, and they lied right to my face. Whether the audio would have actually hurt their case is pretty immaterial. When an already-open legal case with all of the information they’d need to proceed was dropped into their lap with a bow on it, they rejected it.

The author of this article also sent me a PDF of various budgets and memos that they had collected and saved during their time as members of Valleybrook. I received these too when I was a member. I think there are two main takeaways from these pages:

  1. Just the sheer scope of how much money we’re talking about. Millions of dollars.

  2. A quote from the very last page, which is a letter from the Overseers to the members of Valleybrook Church, dated December 17th, 2014 – mere weeks before Doug’s empire would come crashing down:

We can also promise you that our staff has been faithful and responsible with the funds you have provided. To date, our giving is $18,000 under what we projected. Our staff went through a significant belt tightening process in our last fiscal year, and if giving continues to fall short of budget they will again be ready to make the necessary decisions in order to allow us to continue funding the ministries where God has called us.4

What a scam. Clearly, they weren’t faithful or responsible even a little bit. Did you catch that bit in the Case Summary, or in a previous post on this site, where a bag full of cash was found in Mary’s office that had been collected for a Kid’s Offering? When that letter was sent to the congregation in December of 2014, during that same period they spent over $7,500 in late fees, penalties, and interest. They may as well have lit a stack of cash on fire.

This PDF, as well as the Case Summary that was linked earlier in this post, is also available on the Media page for quick access.

I’ve been asked now and again why I don’t meet with Valleybrook to talk about these issues. Some of our former-member community discussed with me that perhaps we should all meet with Valleybrook to give them another chance to pursue legal action. We all landed on, “what’s the point?” They know what they haven’t done. They know what they’re trying to cover up.

I’m all for Valleybrook moving on from this nonsense, but to be responsible in moving on, they need to stop ignoring all of the people they hurt by enabling Doug’s behavior and enabling the church to not take action. If you’re currently attending Valleybrook, I strongly suggest considering the fact that they are still not being fully transparent about what happened, and they are still trying to cover it up by remaining silent. Personally, I would have a lot of questions to ask before I gave them another dime in the offering plate, considering their lack of any desire to pursue justice after being, quite frankly in my opinion, robbed.

Finally, I want to end with yet another update on where I’m taking this website. The Chosen Audio is coming next, followed later by the comparison between Valleybrook and Scientology. I’ve added one additional article after the Scientology comparison, though. I realized I have given a lot of information on some particular incidents, but I’ve never painted a bigger picture for you, the readers. So I intend to remedy that by creating a timeline, from the beginning of Doug coming to Valleybrook to the time he fled the state, complete with accounts from former members who were there and experienced it first hand. I hope to give you all of the necessary context of this whole debacle so that you can truly understand what a nightmare this was to be a part of.

As always, thank you for reading, and thank you for sharing!

Tales from the Cult is a free effort to bring stories of abuse into the light so they may be prevented from happening again. There is not now, and will never be, a fee to access this site. Thank you for reading, and please remember to share posts you find interesting to increase our web presence.

  1. Ordinarily, I would post the PDF of the Police Report that was filed, but given the official and legal nature of the document, and potentially private information, it’s better that I don’t. What I can say, though, is that there is a Police Report filed with the Eau Claire Police Department, and if you’re interested in viewing it, you can try contacting them to request they send you a copy. 
  2. I think that’s really telling of Mary’s ethics and morals. She was angry, so she was willing to commit (potentially) a crime by deleting company/business information. There are, to my understanding, some additional implications since the business was tax-exempt non-profit. 
  3. With the exception of sexual assault. 
  4. Like the over $6,000 that they spent on parking tickets between 2008 and 2014…half of which were from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, where Mary was taking classes. Draw your own conclusions. 

The Finances

Tales from the Cult is a website dedicated to preserving important artifacts from a church in Eau Claire where horrific spiritual abuse took place over several years. If you haven’t read the About This Site page, please do so before reading any article here.

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.

Legal Statement

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.

Going Forward

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.

Tales from the Cult is a free effort to bring stories of abuse into the light so they may be prevented from happening again. There is not now, and will never be, a fee to access this site. Thank you for reading, and please remember to share posts you find interesting to increase our web presence.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. March 2015 is when all resignations were effective. Grant, Doug, and Nate resigned in February. 
  5. 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. 
  6. 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.