August 20, 2019
The “2019 USA Powerlifting Kilos for the Camp Out” competition was billed as a fundraiser for WMMR’s annual "Camp Out for Hunger" event.
It was scheduled for December 6 at Xfinity Live. Organizer Jessica Cornell, the subject of a March article about her push to “convince more women to give powerlifting a try,” claimed that “all proceeds from registration" would be donated to the food collection cause and “broadcast and covered live on WMMR’s Preston and Steve Show.”
In recent days, though, ugly allegations have swirled in the local powerlifting community, with some members paying $125 to register for the event only to learn of its subsequent cancellation – and that Cornell refuses to refund their money.
Many of those complaints echoed a slew of emails sent in after the initial story ran about Cornell. Some alleged Cornell was a fraud.
Cornell argued that she had no control over the cancellation since the decision was made by the USA Powerlifting (USAPL) organization.
Yet, the radio station and location where the event was purportedly to be held, are adamant that they don’t know anything about the powerlifting meet.
“We are trying to contact the perpetrator of this fraud: Kilos for Campout,” Bill Weston, program director at WMMR, told PhillyVoice last week. “WMMR and Preston and Steve care deeply about the legacy of Campout for Hunger and work really hard to make it a success. We have no idea what this alleged event is.”
An email from the radio station to a competition registrant noted that “we have no information about this event. We believe it to be a scam and were unaware of it until recently. Our legal team is attempting to issue a cease and desist. I can assure you the event is not real and we are not associated with the organizer in anyway.”
On one level, this story is about registrants who just want their money back.
On another, it’s a burgeoning scandal involving threats of lawsuits, criminal or civil charges and, among other things, people who allege that Cornell has faked medical ailments for profit, claims she vehemently denies.
Back in March, the 32-year-old Cornell shared her story of being a “roller derby girl who’s also a fireman” with a years-long battle with various health conditions overcome in the course of powerlifting training.
She was, at that point, the Delaware state chair for USA Powerlifting who was preparing for an upcoming competition at a gym in Glenolden, Delaware County.
"I am not publicly posting about it, obviously to leave it in the hands of my awesome lawyer.” – Jessica Cornell
“Jessica has recently been diagnosed with Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC) as a result of Lynch Syndrome,” read the fundraiser story. “Jessica is facing tremendous medical bills, travel costs, paying for care for her children and missed work unpaid. Jessica is not covered under FMLA due to the length of time she has been at her job.
“Jessica has done so much for so many and never puts herself first. It’s now our time to step up and help her when she needs it most.”
The GoFundMe effort was closed on Friday after having raised $5,115. The Facebook was still active on Friday afternoon, having raised $8,418 over the course of two months.
The veracity of those fundraisers has come under scrutiny in social media threads about the canceled meet, some going so far as to question whether Cornell is even sick, allegations which both “infuriate” and “sicken” her.
To refute those assertions, Cornell provided emails from Facebook both asking for, and accepting, “examples of documentation that … include but are not limited to medical bills, doctor’s note, admission documentation, insurance claim info (or) hospital verification.”
She later provided a photo of a medical report – dated June 17, 2019 – which references a "suspicious focal mass" in her liver, enlarged adrenal glands and “metastatic disease in the abdomen and liver.”
Cornell’s attorney, Michael Pattanite Jr. of Lawrenceville, New Jersey, shared his thoughts about the claims being made against his client, which prompted USAPL to pull her state-chair status as it investigates the claims.
“I will only comment to say there is verified medical documentation of her illness, and that she will be pursuing her legal remedies against her attackers,” he wrote in an email to PhillyVoice last week. “Cyberbullying is real, and for a national and state level organization like USAPL to accept malicious Facebook posts as credible information before taking public action, is reprehensible.
“We all have the right to freedom of speech in America," he added. "We do not have the right to attack an individual’s character based upon untrue allegations. When an attack causes damage, it is actionable. No one should have to suffer these attacks, based upon lies.”
To Cornell, these attacks are deeply personal. Calling them “a witch hunt,” she said she’s filing harassment complaints against some of her accusers.
“I have much better things to do, like actually fighting cancer, then (deal with) people making really horrific claims like that,” she said. “The sad part is I’ve been extremely transparent and literally have posted constantly about it but, hey, this is always going to happen when a few people are bitter. I am not publicly posting about it, obviously to leave it in the hands of my awesome lawyer.”
When it comes to the December meet, Cornell does not deny it's been canceled. She placed the blame for that squarely at the feet of the USAPL, the Alaska-based organization that did not respond to PhillyVoice’s requests for comment.
Cornell provided an August 12 letter sent to her from USA Powerlifting’s national office on behalf of the Executive Committee.
She likened that, too, to a witch hunt, and mocked the governing body because “they don’t have remotely my correct address on there, which is hilarious.”
It read, in part:
“We continue to receive complaints (along with supporting documentation) from members regarding potentially fraudulent activities that you may be involved in.
“Until these matters have been thoroughly investigated and said investigations are deemed complete, our corporate counsel has advised that it is in the best interest of the organization and its members that all official roles within the organization you hold be temporarily suspended and all sanctioned events issued in your name be cancelled.”
Cornell also claimed to have “email communication” between herself and someone named “Nick M.” at the station, who she said knew about the event and posted about it in a temporary Instagram story and in emails. (“It is here in my hand and it exists. If he denies anything, I am 100 percent calling him out as being a liar,” she wrote of those correspondences.)
She also noted that she provided the emails between her and Nick M. to her attorney after saying she’d have to track them down “in an old email account.”
Cornell also said “the event was not to be IN the building of Xfinity so of course they would not know about it.”
The website for the event was taken down sometime Friday morning. But a screengrab captured before it was taken down clearly lists Xfinity Live as the location.
Those claims befuddled Jessica Allen, one of the local powerlifters who wants her money back from Cornell. She had signed up for what would have been her first USAPL competition.
“Xfinity had absolutely no idea that the event was taking place,” she said. “They stated that maybe it was being held outside in the parking lot, which is unheard of. I don't know any USAPL meet that has ever been held outside in the midst of winter weather, nor was there a disclaimer on the events registration page.”
Meanwhile, Cornell said she’s under no obligation to refund money to anybody who signed up to participate in the Kilos for Cookout meet. (Many who paid directly to Cornell’s private PayPal have already filed appeals.)
She provided a screenshot of the purported registration form, which stated the event “has a no refund policy.” Those who registered had to click a button that said “yes.”
“They were canceled on my behalf per the USAPL office,” she said. “Why would I refund people when I am not the reason for the cancellation of the event?"
She said her attorney advised her not to make refunds since she's not legally responsible for the cancellations.
“It would be very different if I said, ‘Hey, I’m not holding this anymore.’ Then, absolutely that would be on me," she said. "They made the irresponsible move of prematurely canceling the sanctions on these events and everybody freaked out because of things they saw on social media and went into panic mode.
“Far too many people jumped the gun because false claims started on social media which is really sad. Interestingly enough, out of the 20 or so people who originally filed (PayPal) claims, over half of them have since canceled the claim because more truth is coming to light. I can tell you that this is bigger than just this event, which is extremely unfortunate.”
Cornell also claimed that several “cease and desist letters have been served on my behalf when there is true evidence in my favor to the point where other people are being charged legally, not only criminally but civilly. It singlehandedly proves my innocence and I am going to sit back and let it all play out with in the law.”
Still, those who have sought refunds noted that the USAPL office told them that the meet organizer is responsible for repayment, not the governing body.
For Allen and fellow powerlifter Brittany Bardo, the whole thing became a case study in absurdity last week, as they sifted through all sorts of allegations about the woman that Bardo used to consider a friend and mentor.
Allen’s Twitter thread, and Bardo’s vouching for it, opened a floodgate of hundreds of messages.
Allen recounted how she and a few other powerlifters signed up for the event in early August. Payments ranging from $80 to $140 depending on the entered events were taken via credit card or over PayPal.
“I thought it was a little weird when I didn’t get a confirmation email saying that I was good to go, or that the PayPal went to her personal account and not the USAPL,” she recalled. “Then, we got an email saying that they pulled her sanction (for the Xfinity event and three others in Delaware) but gave no reason why.
“Regarding refunds, it said to contact the national office," Allen said. "I immediately emailed the office and they responded that they don’t know why she’s saying that, that the funds go to the event director, so I’d have to ask her for a refund.”
Her friends – Bardo included – got the same response. (The event she wanted to compete in was capped at 30 people, but figures anywhere from 200 to 250 lifters were impacted by the multiple cancellations.)
"If she had just handled the refund situation differently ... hardly any of us ever would have publicized this.” – Jessica Allen, powerlifter
From there, the rumor mill started churning with some speculating that the events and the fundraisers could’ve been a scam for “personal financial gain.”
“Hundreds of people started messaging me. There were videos going through her medical charts, people reverse-image scanning photos she’d posted and finding them in an online medical journal,” Allen said. “People saying she scammed me out of Eagles tickets two years ago, or sold me equipment that she didn’t really have.
“From there, she started sending anybody who posted anything online emails from her lawyer threatening to sue for defamation," Allen continued. "I’ve never had that many people contact me before. I couldn’t even believe it. In the powerlifting world, I can’t believe someone could have gotten away with doing this for so long.”
Bardo said she’s known Cornell for several years.
“We were friends. I looked up to her in the powerlifting world,” she said last Thursday. “She’s well known in USAPL. She represents the organization pretty well. I generally thought she was a good person who definitely needed help as far as her diagnosis and all the medical issues that she supposedly has going on.”
Then came the Kilos for Campout drama.
“She was saying it’s not my fault, playing the victim game. I found that to be a little fishy,” Bardo said. “I was starting to get really irritated. WMMR said they didn’t know anything about it. Xfinity Live had no idea, either. Something really weird was going on.
“I considered her a friend. I donated to other causes as well. I thought she was someone respectable, but the way she handled this is entirely unprofessional," Bardo said. "Word needs to get out about this because the USAPL isn’t taking any ownership. I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to other people, because there are so many powerlifting federations out there.”
To Cornell, it’s nothing short of “horrific and heartless” that she’s facing these accusations at a time when she’s sick.
“I don’t know how many times I have to post things from my medical record before they will stop with their bullying, cyber attacking, hate speech behavior,” she said, citing those who have broken down medical images she’s posting looking for evidence of fakery.
“Apparently they are all experts in the field of both oncology medicine and medical billing and coding behind their keyboards," she continued. “I’m just grateful that the law is on my side.”
Regardless of where this story goes from here, Allen said she thinks the entire mess related to the December meet could have been easily avoided.
“When it really comes down to it, I honestly think if she had just handled the refund situation differently rather than send everyone out on a wild-goose chase, hardly any of us ever would have publicized this,” she said.
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