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Family Drama Enters New Court Phase

13 June 2007

By Tracy Breton

PROVIDENCE - A lawyer for Laurette Borduas Eifrig yesterday filed a motion to remove Eifrig's Virginia daughter as trustee of her mother's trust because of actions she has taken to freeze her 90-year-old mother, who is blind and suffers from dementia, out of her assisted-living residence in Providence and move her back to Virginia.

Lawyer Richard A. Boren says in court papers that Francine Ardito has breached her fiduciary duty to her mother and that her actions "constitute a continuing contempt of the orders of the Superior Court" of Rhode Island. A hearing on the trustee issue is scheduled for next Monday. In an order issued yesterday, Judge Alice B. Gibney said she plans to hold another hearing sometime later to determine whether Ardito should be held in contempt.

Boren wants Ardito held in contempt for defying an August 2006 order issued by Gibney that froze all of Eifrig's assets until she decides who should be her permanent guardian. Ardito is trying to wrest guardianship away from a court-appointed lawyer, Paula M. Cuculo.

Eifrig testified last month that she wants to remain in Capitol Ridge on Smith Street but Ardito is trying to tie up all of her money, her daughter, Alicea Ardito, says, so Capitol Ridge will evict her and send her back to Virginia to live closer to them.

In recent weeks, Ardito has attempted to withdraw virtually all of her mother's money from banks and brokerage accounts in Virginia, acting under a power of attorney and as co-trustee of her mother's trust. She has also instructed these institutions that they are not to release any of her mother's money to anyone else, including Cuculo, without her permission. The banks haven't released any of the money because of Gibney's order freezing the funds, but because they fear they will be sued by Ardito, they are depositing all of Eifrig's money in a Virginia court registry. This will prevent Cuculo from paying Eifrig's bills here unless a Virginia judge decides otherwise.

Boren, in the motion he filed yesterday, says that Eifrig has expressed a desire to move to a larger unit at Capitol Ridge and that she told Cuculo Sunday that she wants Ardito removed as co-trustee of her trust.

In an interview yesterday, Cuculo said Eifrig has told her several times that she doesn't want either of her daughters to control her finances. When they talked Sunday, she said, Eifrig also told her that she wants to amend her trust so that both of her daughters and her only grandchild share equally in her estate. Under the current trust, which Eifrig executed in 2004, Francine Ardito gets $200,000 more than the others.

Although Eifrig has been diagnosed with moderate dementia in recent months, Cuculo says "she is very sharp." She said Eifrig loves her family but understands the legal drama that is playing out between her feuding daughters. On Sunday, she said, Eifrig referred to both of her daughters as warring "thieves" who are fighting over her future because of greed.

Eifrig, a retired schoolteacher, lived near the Arditos in Virginia for 13 years before her older daughter, Suzette Gebhard, suddenly moved her to her house in Warren, without consulting other family members. Gebhard, former head of the Rhode Island League of Women Voters, secreted her mother in her house for many months, refusing to let Ardito or Cuculo have any contact with her. In January, the police had to break down her door to get Eifrig out of the house. Eifrig has been living in Capitol Ridge on Smith Street since early February.

Gebhard is currently barred from having any contact with her mother. Ardito and her daughter are not allowed any unsupervised contact, according to orders issued by Gibney.

Copyright 2007. Used with permission from The Providence Journal.

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