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Timeline: Long legal battle over mausoleum goes nowhere

Target 12

CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — All sides agree that the Roger Williams Park Mausoleum in Cranston is a public health hazard which continues to grow more dangerous by the year, but no one has been willing to pick up the tab to remedy the situation.

A Target 12 review of Superior Court documents shows that multiple remediation plans were proposed during a nearly decade-long legal battle from 2003 to 2012, but none were implemented due to a lack of legal precedent, a lack of funding, and resistance from the city, the state, and even the Rhode Island Funeral Directors Association.

Here is a timeline of how that legal case unfolded.

August 2003: 

Following the deaths of the mausoleum’s owners, the neglected building was left with no one to maintain it and minimal operating funds. As a result, a petition was filed to appoint a receiver to assume control of the mausoleum’s assets. That court document described the mausoleum as being “in a significant state of disrepair.” Attorney Joseph Ferrucci was appointed as temporary receiver. In subsequent court filings, the receiver revealed that the mausoleum was left with just $17,012.46 cash on hand.

2003 Newspaper Ad

October 2003: 

Unable to locate records about the people entombed in the mausoleum and those who had a vested interest in the building, receiver Ferrucci sought and received permission to run a newspaper ad (shown at right) asking people with an interest in the mausoleum to come forward.

November 2003:

Joseph Ferrucci is named permanent receiver of the Roger Williams Mausoleum. Following his appointment, multiple inspections were conducted on the property to determine the physical condition of the building. According to a subsequent court filing, these inspections revealed that “tens of thousands of dollars would be required to put the Premises in a safe condition.”

January 2005: 

The City of Cranston condemns the Roger Williams Mausoleum as a public safety risk. The receiver would later argue that by doing so, the city assumed de facto control of the mausoleum, “thereby, essentially, taking possession of the Premises.”

October 2005:

An inspection report by DCI Construction of Cumberland estimates necessary repairs to the mausoleum at $910,000 but adds that more extensive analysis is required by structural and mechanical engineers. The inspection report came to the following conclusion: “Overall, the conditions found in this building are poor and as it sits today unusable.”

November 2005:

The Cranston City Council passes a resolution declining to take possession of the mausoleum. The resolution states that although the council “is not insensitive to the serious issues presented” at the mausoleum, assuming responsibility for the property “would not be in the best interest of the City of Cranston.”

January 2006:

A potential buyer of the mausoleum property, Joseph Berarducci, submits a proposal to repair and restore the property, remove and reinter the bodies, and operate the renovated building as a crematory.  The following March, the court grants Berarducci a 90-day exclusivity period to obtain the necessary permits to pursue his proposal.

May 2006:

The Rhode Island Funeral Directors Association files a motion to intervene in the Berarducci proposal for the mausoleum site, citing concerns that the plan would interfere with the laws regulating Rhode Island’s funeral industry. The receiver responds harshly, accusing the RIFDA of trying to “‘hijack’ this matter to stymie competition,” and failing to demonstrate “a bona fide interest” in the mausoleum case to that point. Berarducci would subsequently abandon his effort to purchase the mausoleum.

November 2009:

Receiver Joseph Ferrucci passes away unexpectedly. Days later, Ferrucci’s law partner, W. Mark Russo, is appointed substitute permanent receiver.

April 2011:

New receiver Mark Russo requests the authority to initiate a civil complaint against the city of Cranston and/or the state of Rhode Island, seeking to force them to accept financial responsibility for the Roger Williams Park Mausoleum. In his filing, Russo says he understands why the city and state are resistant to providing funding for the mausoleum, but argues that this situation is unique.

“[T]he State and Cranston argued before this Court that there are hundreds of buildings in need of immediate repair and the taxpayers cannot shoulder that burden,” Russo writes. “The Receiver agrees, however, there is only one with the remains of 527 human beings.” (The bold typeface is his.)

Russo also argues that multiple Rhode Island state laws suggest both the city and state should shoulder the burden, but both push back at the receiver’s arguments and accuse him of misinterpreting those laws.

While simultaneously resisting any financial responsibility, the state also sympathizes with the receiver’s plight. In a court response, state attorney Michael Mitchell writes, “The receiver is impaled upon the horns of a dilemma …. If it were an old industrial building of no historical significance or economic value, then the Receiver could dispassionately abandon it to be condemned.”

Mitchell points out that Russo, however, was burdened with the “moral obligation” of ensuring the bodies at the mausoleum were treated with “the highest degree of protection, dignity, and respect.”

Jan. 3, 2012:

Receiver Marc Russo files a $1.9 million Closure Plan for the mausoleum. The five-phase plan, contingent on funding from the city of Cranston and/or the state of Rhode Island, calls for:

  1. Identifying all military and service members in the mausoleum and relocating them to the nearest Veterans Cemetery.
  2. Identifying all remaining Catholics in the mausoleum and coordinating with St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Greenwich for relocation and burial.
  3. Disinterring all remaining bodies and temporarily containing them in concrete storage liners at the mausoleum site.
  4. Relocating and burying remaining bodies at one of three sites: Oaklawn Cemetery next to the mausoleum, a dedicated strip of land in Providence, or burial at the mausoleum site following demolition.
  5. Demolishing the Roger Williams Mausoleum and potentially selling the site.

Jan. 10, 2012:

The City of Cranston files a response stating Cranston “has not been, nor is it now, in a position to make any financial commitment in regard to funding of the proposed Closure Plan.”

Jan. 20, 2012:

Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein approves the receiver’s Closure Plan but denies the receiver’s petition to pursue a civil complaint against the city and/or state, effectively killing the Closure Plan due to lack of funding.

March 5, 2012: 

Unable to secure government funding to implement the Closure Plan, receiver Marc Russo seeks to abandon the mausoleum. In his petition for abandonment, Russo suggests he and his predecessor had exhausted all avenues for solving the dilemma.

“Despite your Substitute Receiver’s best efforts in working with the City and RIDOH,” Russo writes, “both agencies have been averse to accepting responsibility for providing the necessary funding to remediate the impending danger to human health and safety that exists at the Mausoleum.”

Russo also points out in the court filing, “Currently, there is no Rhode Island receivership law which speaks directly to the issues presented.”

March 27, 2012:

Judge Silverstein approves Russo’s motion for abandonment.

June 26, 2012:

Receiver Mark Russo files his final report on the Roger Williams Mausoleum receivership case, in which he concludes “closure of the Mausoleum is impossible” without funding from the city and/or state, or from a potential buyer.

In his final report, Russo again outlines the unprecedented nature of the mausoleum saga.

“In search of case law from all 50 states, Federal and District Circuit Courts, and the United States Bankruptcy Court, your Substitute Receiver found no case directly dealing with the issues which the Mausoleum presents,” he writes.

July 18, 2012: 

The legal entity that owned the mausoleum, Roger Williams Park Mausoleum Inc., is officially dissolved, and all remaining books & records are ordered destroyed.

Susan Campbell contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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