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Judge Allows Daughter's Visit with Mom

26 Nov 2007

By Tracy Breton

PROVIDENCE - For the first time since January - when her court-appointed guardian removed her from her daughter's house in Warren - 91-year-old Laurette Borduas Eifrig will be allowed by a judge to leave her assisted-living residence in Providence so she can share Thanksgiving dinner with her daughter in a Seekonk restaurant.

Eifrig's guardian, lawyer Paula M. Cuculo, told Superior Court Judge Alice B. Gibney in a chambers meeting Tuesday that she no longer considers Suzette Gebhard, of Warren, a kidnapping risk and that the mother-daughter outing would be good for her ward, a retired schoolteacher who is now blind and suffers from dementia.

Eifrig and Gebhard, the former head of the Rhode Island League of Women Voters and a one-time Democratic congressional candidate, will dine together at Audrey's restaurant in Seekonk. Under the terms of Gibney's order, the outing will be limited to four hours and Gebhard must take a cell phone with her and stay in contact with Cuculo while Eifrig is with her.

At the request of Gebhard and Cuculo, Gibney also agreed for the time being to allow Gebhard to start taking her mother on other outings in Rhode Island once a week for a maximum of four hours. The judge told Gebhard she was loosening the reins as "an act of faith" and would revisit the situation sometime after the new year.

Today's outing will be the first time that Eifrig has been allowed by the court to leave Capitol Ridge since the Warren police removed her from Gebhard's home on Jan. 29 after breaking down the door. Gebhard was charged with obstruction of justice after she moved her mother from Reston, Va., to Rhode Island in May 2006 and then secreted her in her house for months, barring family members and Cuculo from visiting with her. Gebhard spent a night in prison but was later acquitted.

In an interview yesterday, Cuculo said that she has learned from Eifrig that - contrary to representations made by Francine Ardito, Eifrig's Virginia daughter who formerly had power of attorney for her - it was Eifrig's wish to move to Rhode Island with Gebhard. "She wasn't moved here against her will," said Cuculo. "She was tired of living under Francine's rule. She told me, 'If you had the chance to get out, wouldn't you have taken it?' "

The current restrictions on Eifrig's freedom of movement - and the subsequent appointment of an outside guardian - was spurred by a bitter feud between Ardito and Gebhard over what is in their mother's best interest and who would control her finances.

Gibney found, after protracted hearings, that because of their animosity toward each other, neither daughter was a suitable substitute decision-maker for their mother and appointed a paid guardian, Cuculo, instead. Cuculo now controls Eifrig's investments, expenditures, health-care decisions and with whom she may associate.

Ardito is currently barred from seeing her mother. On Nov. 1, Gibney found her in willful contempt for repeatedly violating court orders that barred her from removing money from her mother's trust. Over the past few months, Eifrig's lawyer, Richard A. Boren, has submitted evidence to Gibney showing that Ardito took more than $300,000 of her mother's money - about 40 percent of her life savings - from Eifrig's trust and deposited it in accounts in her own name, without disclosing to Boren or Cuculo that the money existed. In September, Ardito returned $251,183.27 of the money. Gibney has ordered her to repay an additional $16,000.

If the money isn't repaid by Dec. 14, an arrest warrant could be issued for Ardito and the judge could order her to pay a daily fine until she turns over the $16,000. According to canceled checks submitted to the court, Ardito used the $16,000 from her mother's trust to pay a Virginia lawyer to sue her mother and Cuculo in an attempt to regain control over her mother's affairs.

Copyright 2007. Used with permission from The Providence Journal.

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