This Story Needs To Be Told

Tell Your Friends. Tell The Media. Tell Your Representatives.

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The Call

On Friday, May 8, 2009, Cornerstone Outsourcing, Inc. president Wendell Davis received the call that would impact his life in a way that was unexpected and incomprehensible. On the cusp of strong growth and continued expansion, Davis was returning to his office from a morning vendor meeting when his payroll supervisor called and uttered the life-altering phrase, “Wendell, we’ve been hacked.” Having attended a Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) Citizens Academy symposium on white-collar crime the night before, Mr. Davis assumed that either his employee was pulling a prank or that the F.B.I. themselves were using him as a test case. His assumptions were quickly eliminated when he heard the uncontrollable sobs of his business partner in the background of the call. As he battled the shock of the news, Wendell found some comfort in the assurance that a bank representative had provided to his payroll supervisor, “Don’t worry. We’ve frozen all activity until Cornerstone and the bank can figure this out.” With the Citizen’s Academy fresh in his thoughts, Davis advised the employee to not speak with anyone else until he notified the F.B.I.

Russian Hacking

Upon the advice of the F.B.I., Davis rushed back to his office to gather the affected computer. While in his office, Mr. Davis was advised that nearly $500,000 had been stolen, so he again contacted a bank representative to determine if any additional information was available. Once again, the bank representative was comforting as she assured Mr. Davis that the bank had already begun the process of recalling all of the drafts. The representative went ever further to add that because the hacking theft had taken place after business hours the night before and Cornerstone had contacted them so quickly this morning, Cornerstone could expect their account to be restored to the pre-hacking balance. The remainder of the day was spent meeting with the F.B.I. and trying to determine a strategy moving forward. Based on the information gathered from the transactions and the computer, the F.B.I. agents made it clear that this hacking was Russian-based and the apprehension and prosecution of a suspect would be nearly impossible.

Transferring the Blame

On Monday, May 11, 2009, Mr. Davis received a call from the bank advising that they had initiated a Safety and Executive meeting. Additionally, the bank advised Davis that the consensus from that meeting was that the bank had decided to not accept responsibility for the hack; Therefore, they would not restore any of the funds to Cornerstone Outsourcing’s account. Following that phone call, Mr. Davis found that the bank became hesitant to discuss the situation with him any further. After meeting with Cornerstone’s insurance company, Mr. Davis was told that any insurance claim would not be honored because the banking institution’s poor website security clearly made the bank at fault for the hack. At that point, Davis reached out to a trusted friend and advisor who had been working to secure funds for Cornerstone’s expansion prior to the hack. The advisor projected calm on the situation as he agreed to reach out to the bank president on behalf of Davis and Cornerstone.

We’re bigger than you

After gathering and reviewing previous banking contracts and communication that outlined specifically the bank’s obligation to provide adequate account security, Davis and his advisor met with the bank president and representatives. Armed with the contracts and additional information provided by a banking and security expert, Davis fully expected the bank to relent on their denial and offer to fully restore Cornerstone’s much-needed operating funds. Early into the meeting, it became obvious that the bank had no intention of accepting liability for the theft. At one point, Davis asked the bank president to speak directly to the fact that bank representatives had earlier agreed to resolve the issue and restore the account balance. In response, the bank president answered, “Mr. Davis, I know how much money was taken from you, and I know how much money you have left. Cornerstone cannot afford to fight this in court.” Following that atrocious comment, Mr. Davis gathered his documents and left the meeting. On the way back to the office, Mr. Davis’ advisor stated his disdain for the way the bank president had acted, and the advisor made it clear that it was time to engage legal counsel.


Though Mr. Davis was confident that he had solid legal standing for action against the bank, he soon learned that a strategy employed by the bank would limit—if not completely remove—his ability to recoup his stolen funds. Call after call, meeting after meeting, Davis discovered that every major law firm in the state of Tennessee had been placed on retainer by the bank. Because of this fact, Cornerstone Outsourcing, Inc. struggled to find any law firm willing to accept them as a client. Ultimately, a small firm in Knoxville did agree to take the case. In addition to obtaining legal counsel, Davis and his representatives reached out to politicians on a local, state, and federal level to request information and assistance as they struggled to survive. It was at this point that Davis learned that politicians don’t like to get involved in a situation like this—especially once a lawsuit has been filed. In January, 2011, after nearly two years of struggling against factors far beyond their control, Mr. Davis, his attorney, and his advisors agreed that it was time to bring the battle to an end. Less than two months later, Cornerstone Outsourcing, Inc. closed its doors for the last time. Though he had done everything right—carefully manage his finances, insure his business, and place his funds in a bank he believed would carefully secure his account—Wendell Davis had become yet another victim of a faceless attacker and an off-balanced system.

Failed but not Finished-A call to Action

Heartbroken and devastated at watching his life’s work crumble before his eyes, Mr. Davis leaned on the strength of his family, friends, and faith to navigate through the dark days ahead. Determined to not be defined or embittered by the failure of his business, Davis returned to the staffing industry as an employee and began the long climb back from the bottom of the pit. Though the battle for Cornerstone was lost, Davis never gave up the hope of one day owning his own business again and, if possible, telling his story to the American public. As we near the eight year anniversary of this theft, Wendell Davis and his communication team are asking you to help get this story in front of every friend, business leader, and politician that you know. Daily we hear stories about the potential impact of Russian hacking on the American infrastructure, yet we rarely hear of stories like the one you just read. Small business is the backbone of our economy, and today’s small businesses have many obstacles they must overcome to succeed. It’s time to eliminate the threat of this particular obstacle. Help us win a fight that has been ignored for almost a decade. Share Wendell’s story and help us tell Congress that it’s time to act.