By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jeff Balke
Brea recalls her statement: "I just remember telling him that he was a nasty man and I was sad for him, that he liked to watch little girls being tortured, and [to] watch them cry whenever their families turn against them, and that I forgave him even though I had to say 'sorry' to him four years ago."
"I just wish it'd be over. This is the reason why kids don't come out and say anything. This is it."
— Ashlyn Treadway
"It's just not a matter that we're dealing with."
— Danny Russo, Superintendent, Texas District, UPCI
The Tampa Marriott Waterside is a beautiful hotel resort boasting a marbled lobby with palm trees dwarfed by gigantic columns.
It sits upon a riverwalk, adjacent to the Tampa Convention Center. In late September, it was flooded with UPCI ministers and their special guests, in town for the annual general conference. They got a cut rate — $119 a night. As usual, Buck Treadway's expenses were covered by his congregation.
Buck was unavailable for comment even before he split for Tampa. On the first call, he was attending to more important matters.
"He is swimming laps out in the pool," Patsy Treadway said. Patsy declined to comment, citing a nonexistent gag order.
The hesitancy comes not just from the civil suit, but from a notorious meeting at New Life Tabernacle in August 2006 that may have cost the church a third of its membership. When former members speak of that meeting, they sound like someone who endured an alien probe — shocked, hurt and, most of all, unsure of what the hell happened.
Although the nearly-five-hour meeting was recorded, the only known copy was subpoenaed by the grand jury in Klem's criminal case. Jefferson County prosecutor Waylon Thompson said the tape was not public record, and attorney Kip Lamb said that, while he's heard the tape, he doesn't have a copy himself. While Lamb conceded that Buck Treadway sounds a bit odd on the tape, his ramblings had nothing to do with the civil suit.
It's not clear who made the recording, as Buck told the congregation upfront that no tape recording or note taking would be tolerated. Then, according to some who attended, he ordered an usher to lock the doors.
Arnold Hamilton, Marsha Hamilton's husband, recalls, "For the next five hours, there was shouting, rebuking, slandering and all kinds of distractions in that meeting."
This included asking all those who supported him to rise, without actually explaining what they were supporting. After he got that tally, he asked those supporters with master's degrees or higher to stand up, ostensibly demonstrating that, if well-educated people supported him, anyone else would be a fool not to.
"He humiliated all of those who didn't stand to support him," Arnold Hamilton says.
According to former members, Buck also singled out kids who were present. He polled them, one by one, first asking if they'd ever lied, and then if they were virgins. For those who confessed, Buck hit them with a harsh "I rebuke you!"
According to Arnold Hamilton, Buck also rebuked his son, Leslie, saying he was incapable of marrying a decent woman.
When Buck finally said, almost in an offhand manner, that he was being sued, Arnold and Marsha Hamilton suddenly knew what this was all about.
Some time before the meeting, the Hamiltons received a call from fellow church member and friend Tina McDaniel. She called to say she would no longer be attending church and that her daughter Randee wanted to say goodbye. McDaniel explained that Randee said she had been touched by Jeff Klem. Tina said it happened in 2001, when the girl was 11. She hadn't told anyone until four years later, by which time mother and daughter knew about the other girls' allegations. Tina said she immediately notified the police and Children's Protective Services. That was to take care of Klem. Then she told them she was part of a civil suit to hold Buck Treadway responsible.
So when Buck said one of his kids was suing him, the Hamiltons suddenly believed that Buck was admonishing anyone who had prior knowledge of the suit. Indeed, Tina McDaniel and her husband — like others who refused to give Buck their support — received "letters of release" from New Life Tabernacle. They were no longer welcome.
Lamb says McDaniel was already looking to find a new church and Buck merely provided a polite letter giving her the opportunity to do so. He also says only a few people left the church, and the bulk of those who stayed are probably not even aware of the civil suit. And while Lamb says Buck had just returned from his fourth round of chemotherapy for cancer before that meeting and was not in the best physical or mental condition, no one appears to dispute that the meeting was bizarre.
But it's unclear whether any church members reported concerns over their pastor's mental health. And while Tina McDaniel says she and her daughter told a New Life official about the daughter's molestation, there is no documentation indicating that the district office or UPCI headquarters were ever notified.
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