Dec 5, 2014

Former Street Church associates claim 'cult-like' practices tearing families apart

Nina Briguglio
ABC News
DEC 05, 2014

PHOTO Nina Briguglio has chosen to leave Street Church and says she has lost contact with her family for doing so.

Former Street Church members and associates have come forward alleging cult-like practices are tearing Adelaide families apart.

Street Church first came to South Australia's attention when its preaching caused angry confrontations in Rundle Mall.

When the Adelaide City Council prosecuted brothers Caleb and Sam Corneloup, they took the fight all the way to the High Court.

Former Street Church associate Peter Egel still preaches in Rundle Mall, but said he was no longer associated with the church because of concerns of what was happening "behind the scenes".

"We had a lot of flack in those days, being carted off and thrown into prison for the night and I thought 'oh well, this is different'," he said.

"It's better than some of the Christianity I'd seen so I thought this is a good group to get involved with.

"It changed on December last year, when we became aware of practices, particularly by the leader Sam Corneloup and that surprised us."
Nina Briguglio could also once be found fiercely supporting Street Church in Rundle Mall after she joined the church in 2012.

But like Mr Egel, she is no longer a part of the church and has lost all contact with her daughter over her decision to cut ties with Mr Corneloup.

A single mother of two daughters, she felt she had found an extended family, especially when Mr Corneloup and his wife Debbie moved in with her and her daughters in 2013.

"I was divorced at a very young age. I was only married for five months and my mother died when I was very young and I just, I really missed family," she said.

"I thought, 'Oh wow, this is where I'm supposed to be.' This must be my family. It sort of seemed like a natural progression I guess but in hindsight, I made a wrong decision."

At first Ms Briguglio said she got special attention from Mr Corneloup when he began counselling her over issues from her past.

Eventually, Ms Briguglio said their relationship changed and her existence in the home became one of fear.

Forced to 'write lines in the dark' as punishment
She said if she was deemed to have a bad attitude or was talking back, she would be punished.

One form of punishment involved being sent out to the car to write lines.

"I would sit in the car in the dark with a torch in my pyjamas or a tracksuit or whatever and would write lines," Ms Briguglio said.

"The average time I spend writing lines was two or three hours and if I went to the toilet for a break or went to look for a torch, he extended the time I had to write lines for wasting time."

On occasions, she was kicked out of home and sent to stay in a boarding house in Oakden called Unity House.

In one late night Facebook conversation, Mr Corneloup threatened her with more and more time there.

"You just earned yourself another week at Unity House. That's two weeks extra which means that the past two weeks count for nothing really. It starts again from today. Seven weeks," the Facebook message said.

However Mr Corneloup and Ms Briguglio's daughter, Alecia Alinejad, said Ms Briguglio was forced to write lines and spend time in Unity House because she was abusive and disruptive.

"You have to understand, she's like causing a ruckus in the home," Ms Alinejad said.

"It's not just, oh, she's rolling her eyes. She's throwing things around the home. [Sam Corneloup's wife] Deb's seen many times when she's hit me and I mean we have had a history of abuse with Nina."

However, Ms Briguglio denied any allegations she abused her daughters.

Corneloups accepted a large sum of cash from Nina Briguglio
Sam Corneloup and Alecia Alinejad

At first the Corneloups lived with Ms Briguglio and her family in a unit she owned, before they moved together to a rental property.

While they were living there, Ms Briguglio sold her unit and from the profit she made gave $47,000 to Mr Corneloup.

She said it was at a time that she was being threatened with time at Unity House.

"I was desperate to be repentant and I thought how can I prove it? Because they can't look into my heart," she said.

"How can I do something outwardly to show that I'm repentant and I was thinking maybe if I give him a chunk of money and show that I'm not attached to it, perhaps he might believe me."

Sam Corneloup said he repeatedly refused the money at first, but eventually accepted it, although he put the figure between $35,000 and $40,000.

"In the end, of course, if someone wants to desperately give you $40,000, or $35,000 or something and especially when they've done a lot of things to ruin your life in a sense and you know stop all business activities because ..." he said

Sam Corneloup said he spent much of the money paying off church debt, but later understood the money should have gone to Ms Briguglio daughters, so he paid $35,000 to Ms Alinejad.

While Ms Briguglio and Ms Alinejad were sharing a house with Sam Corneloup and his family, Ms Alinejad drew up a "headship" contract that stated Ms Alinejad must submit to Sam Corneloup as the male head of the household.

It was signed by Ms Alinejad, Sam Corneloup and Ms Briguglio.

"[The contract was] not to say that women cannot work, cannot leave the home," Sam Corneloup said.

"It's more an issue of there has to be a leader in a household and the Bible places that leadership firmly upon the male, not upon the women, ever."

Daughters have been 'manipulated and controlled'
Ms Briguglio said she has lost all contact with her daughter because of Sam Corneloup.

"Unfortunately I haven't been able to communicate with Alecia because Sam told her that if I saw her face to face that I would manipulate her," she said.

Ms Briguglio said she had a close relationship with her two daughters before joining Street Church, but by the time she left Sam Corneloup's home, she felt she could not confide in them, even when she finally decided to break away and leave the house.

"I couldn't tell her. I couldn't tell her that I was going to run away because she wouldn't come with me and then she would have told him and then he would have stopped me from leaving," she said.

"And I just drove to a friend's house, not knowing if she was going to be home and I thought I don't care if I have to sleep in my car, I'm not going back. It's a cult."

Ms Briguglio's other daughter Aysan is married to Sam Corneloup's best friend Jesse Chetcuti, and they have a 18-month-old son.

Since leaving she has had little contact with any of her family members, and believed that was because they were 'being manipulated and controlled'.

"I found out my mobile number's been blocked from their mobiles so ... text messages I've sent, they've not received. My emails are blocked. I'm not allowed to speak to them," she said.

However Ms Alinejad said Ms Briguglio's lack of contact with the family was her own decision.

"I love her so much but I have to tell you like it's very frustrating when someone is dishonest about the way they treated you and when they won't let you live your life," she said.

"I just want to do my PhD. I just want to do my work. I don't want to get emails at my Flinders address, I don't want to be getting letters, I don't want to be getting phone calls from her and her church group, apparently church group.

"I don't want any of that. I just want to live my life and be free."

Different views on issues see Street Church brothers spilt
Sam Corneloup and his wife Debbie are considering going one step further by adopting Ms Alinejad.

"Nina - who's my biological mother, who's raised me from birth as best she could - is not my mother. She's not maternal," Ms Alinejad said.

Sam Corneloup said he and his wife might decide to adopt Ms Alinejad but it was "not really what we're after".

"What we're really after is just basically living at peace in a family and just being loving towards each other," he said.

But 7:30 South Australia understands the issue of adoption, along with some of the disciplinary methods Sam Corneloup was using in his household, has created a split between Sam and his brother Caleb.

Caleb Corneloup declined to be interviewed by 7:30 South Australia, but provided the following statement.

"We defend Samuel's position regarding the money from Nina, however we do reject any adoption of Alecia and state that it is unbiblical, unorthodox and not recognised under Australia law," the statement said.

"Because Sam ... and Alecia have left the church we are no longer in a position to correct him."

'This is turning into a cult'

Mr Egel said he was shocked to hear Mr Corneloup was considering adopting Ms Alinejad.

"When I heard about this new level that they'd gone to about adopting 24-year-olds and adopting adults I thought no, this is turning into a cult," he said.

However Mr Corneloup denied that allegation, saying he was a Christian man who was just trying to help others.

"A cult is someone who literally just uses people, they live in a mansion on some island somewhere, taking everybody's money," he said.

"A cult is not someone who rents a place, drives a Camry and is just trying to help people and all of his money since he became a Christian has been given to people for his, for the past 10 years."

Within an hour of 7:30 South Australia contacting Sam Corneloup about this story, a call was made to Ms Briguglio's workplace alleging she had abused her children.

The person identified himself as a psychologist called Tim Gracie, but there is no registered psychologist by that name in South Australia.

Mr Corneloup and Ms Alinejad denied the call was made as a result of 7:30 South Australia's enquires.

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