A dying man wants his money back.
Opinion by Neil Jenman.
Rick Snowden is dying. He has a disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP). It’s a dreadful disease in which the body slowly cramps itself up. Victims often choke to death.
You won’t meet too many nicer blokes than Rick Snowden. In his early 60’s, Rick runs a small business in the building industry; although, these days, it’s getting harder to work at all. Rick doesn’t know how long he’s got to live, perhaps a couple of years, maybe more, maybe less. With this sort of disease, nothing’s certain except a terrible end. It’s a heartbreaking way to die.
Right now, what he wants, more than anything else, however, is the best quality of life possible. But that takes money. Rick and his wife need to modify their home to cope with Rick’s progressive debilitation.
A few years ago, Rick handed over a chunk of money to a bloke called Brien Ernest Cornwell.
Brien Cornwell is a Newcastle based property developer. Back in 2006, Cornwell was planning an apartment project in Newcastle’s main street. He had bought the old Palais Royale building in Hunter Street and planned to build 92 apartments.
Cornwell made an offer to investors: Put your money into my development and you’ll get back a return of around 40 per cent in less than two years. Cornwell put together an investment scheme in which he issued shares to investors. Rick Snowden was one of these investors. He gave Cornwell $76,500. He accepted Cornwell’s word that this was an “astute” investment.
But Rick didn’t know too much about Brien Cornwell. He didn’t know that Cornwell was also a solicitor who had recently been found guilty of professional misconduct and had been fined and disqualified from acting as a solicitor.
Brien Cornwell is a smooth talker. Like many a salesman, he comes across as ever-so convincing. When he gives you his word, it’s done with what appears to be enormous sincerity. But, as Rick Snowden (and many other investors) has since discovered, Brien Cornwell’s word doesn’t amount to much, especially when it comes to paying his investment debts.
Despite claiming to have 41 pre-sales of the 93 apartments in his project, the you-beaut complex never got started. Apparently, Rick’s money went to one of Cornwell’s other projects, he’s not sure.
In May 2008, Rick discovered that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) had taken action against Cornwell for running an unregistered managed investment scheme. In soliciting Rick’s money, Cornwell had broken the law.
But, never mind. Cornwell offered ASIC an “enforceable undertaking” in which he agreed to write to all his investors and offer to refund their money. Brien Cornwell was giving his word to repay.
But whether Brien Cornwell is giving his word to investors or to ASIC, it makes no difference. Brien Cornwell’s word amounts to diddley squat. Despite the promise, Cornwell did not repay Rick Snowden.
Last year, at the request of Rick Snowden, I made contact with Brien Cornwell. He told me he had no money. “I have got nothing,” Cornwell said, adding that he had even been reduced to going to Centrelink. He said he was driving an old Ute loaned to him by a friend. He sounded so sincere.
A few nights later, I met Brien Cornwell. It was late at night and we met at McDonald’s restaurant in the Sydney suburb of Thornleigh. Cornwell was driving from Melbourne back to Newcastle.
I told Cornwell that Rick Snowden was seriously ill and desperate for the return of the money he had invested with Cornwell. I told Cornwell that Rick Snowden had trusted his word when he had handed over his money to Cornwell.
Cornwell insisted that he had no money. I persisted. I almost begged him. Help a dying man.
And so, finally, Cornwell agreed to start making payments to Rick Snowden. He paid me $45 on the spot and he gave me his word that, each week, he would repay money to Rick Snowden. The following day he sent me an email confirming that he would pay “on a weekly basis”. That was on August 6, 2009, almost 26 weeks ago.
And how many payments has Brien Cornwell made since he promised to pay every week? One. That’s right, in 26 weeks, he has paid just once, a total of $25, less than a dollar a week.
So much for Brien Cornwell’s word.
Despite what he told me, Brien Cornwell was not driving an old Ute when we met. He was driving a gleaming Mercedes Benz. When I went to take photos of his car (which he had tried to conceal from me), Cornwell accused me of “breaching journalistic integrity”. He said that I intended to use the car to dramatise the situation and to claim that he was living in luxury while his investors were struggling.
But that’s my point. Cornwell told me he was destitute. Instead, he is driving a luxury vehicle. His wife, Alida Cornwell (who is also a lawyer and was also a director of the company that solicited the money from Rick Snowden) is driving a luxury BMW SUV. They live in a large home with panoramic ocean views in one of the best streets in Newcastle. It costs money to live in luxury.
Meanwhile, Rick Snowden has an old Corolla. His illness is crippling him. He desperately needs money to modify his home and to cover his medical costs.
Brien Cornwell has sent threatening letters from his lawyers accusing me of harassing him. Rick’s son is a television reporter. He wants to do a story on Brien Cornwell and his worthless word. But Cornwell has threatened him. “If this story goes public,” he says, “it will be a posthumous story because I will take my own life.”
What? The man with the money is threatening to kill himself? That’s right. Cornwell says he is the victim. He claims the Port Stephens Council have ruined his development business.
Well, Mr Cornwell. You have the money that belongs to a dying man. To you – a man who once boasted that you were so wealthy that you measured your wealth “in millions of dollars” – the money you took from Rick Snowden should be a mere pittance. It’s less than $80,000.
Please honour your word, Brien Cornwell. Give the money back to this decent, dying man.
To anyone who knows or comes into contact with Brien Cornwell, please ask him to repay his debts, especially the debt to the dying Rick Snowden. Time is running out.
FOOTNOTE: Rick Snowden is a pseudonym. He has suffered enough without having to suffer the shame of being named. He says he feels like a fool for trusting Brien Cornwell.
Brien Cornwell was offered a chance to comment for this article. He did not reply.