Compton City Attorney Craig J. Cornwell is going after unscrupulous vendors cheating his City. Barely six months on the job, Cornwell has launched a large-scale effort to recover millions of dollars that service providers have drained from City coffers through improper billing practices.
On Friday, February 6, Cornwell filed an action in the Compton Superior Court for fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, false claims, negligence and violations of the California Business and Professions Code against a City employee and several medical providers including Dr. Aline Smith and Dr. Howard Oliver, who provided medical care to injured City workers. The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages totaling nearly 3 million dollars. According to the suit, these providers submitted false billing statements to the City for employees who filed workers' compensation claims, but who never received treatment from the respective medical offices identified in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is part of Cornwell's broader campaign to heighten accountability within the City and increase the effectiveness of the services that his office provides. While handling a wide array of legal issues for the City, Cornwell is implementing change – focusing on community concerns, rooting out crime and blight, and looking for new sources of revenue to benefit the City.
Putting the City's nuisance abatement codes to work, Cornwell has already obtained court injunctions to shut down places of illegal activity. His efforts have led to the closure of a known drug house, which is now under City control and court jurisdiction. Alongside targeting drug trafficking, Cornwell has aimed for improving neighborhood safety, further shutting down an auto repair shop where unauthorized gatherings had led to a fatal shooting incident.
Within the City's own workings, Cornwell, who is described by his staff and peers as methodical and pensive, has been re-assessing and streamlining how business gets done. He conducted an internal review of the City Community Redevelopment Agency's First-Time Homebuyers Program and has issued a report recommending measures for improving responsiveness to residents. According to Cornwell, "my efforts are possible because of the leadership and support of the City's Mayor, Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Eric J. Perrodin, and council members, all of whom share the vision of more effective governance."
Cornwell expresses confidence that "our allegations will be proven in court and that the City will be able to recover all funds" by seeking both damages and penalties. For him, however, the lawsuit serves a dual function, as it signals an era of heightened accountability – not just between the City and its vendors, but between the City and its residents.
"I am committed," Cornwell assures, "to building a relationship with this community through transparency." "Consistent with the Mayor and the entire City Council's initiative, 'Birthing a New Compton,' my staff and I are working diligently to insure that our office is an integral part of the City's broader plan of providing the citizens of Compton with a greater level of services and a form of governance that is responsive to its needs," states Cornwell.
He is also working to ensure its economic well-being. Cornwell is drafting an Impact Fee Ordinance that seeks to collect payment from waste management companies benefiting from the City's infrastructure while making use of its disposal facilities. Following the example of other municipalities, Cornwell is guiding the City toward imposing fees that would offset that damage that heavy waste management trucks – often 18-wheelers – inflict on the City's roads by causing wear-and-tear and adding to congestion.
The sense of civic responsibility that motivates Cornwell was instilled in him by his mother, Maple J. Cornwell, who worked for Compton Unified School District as a teacher, administrator, and principal, from 1957 until her retirement in 2000. Cornwell's love of community was equally nurtured by his father, Raymond R. Cornwell, who has been a pastor in Los Angeles since 1955.
Cornwell himself has been employed by the City for nearly a decade. A graduate of Whittier College of Law and the University of California Santa Barbara, Cornwell joined the City's Attorney Office after a brief stint in private practice. He rose through its ranks to become Chief Deputy City Attorney in 2006 and in 2008 he was appointed by the City Council to the City's top legal position replacing his predecessor and mentor, Legrand H. Clegg II, who retired after 15 years in the City Attorney post.
Next month, Cornwell stands for election for his first full term as City Attorney. Although he is running unopposed, he knows that the importance of receiving the citizens' stamp of approval is vital. He is aware that his position affords challenges but is full of promise. Having already hit the ground running, however, Cornwell is ready for both.