PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When Ambrose Mendes passed away in 1976, he had no idea the estate he built from nothing into more than two dozen pieces of East Side real estate and a funeral home would be in dispute four decades later.
The “Ambrose Mendes Jr., Victor Mendes and Madonna Mendes vs. Alfred Factor and Kirshenbaum and Kirshenbaum, Inc.” remains in limbo though, with a recent defendants’ motion for summary judgment on two of the five counts in the lawsuit denied by Superior Court Associate Justice Richard Licht.
“It was a big victory,” Mendes said from his Florida home. “We want what my father built for us, but it’s more than just material. It’s what he wanted and it’s about what’s fair.”
Joseph Penza, who represents the defendants, downplayed the significance of latest filing in the case, saying he was just trying to focus the case.
Penza said the plaintiff has been offered a settlement, but if necessary his clients can document that the Mendes will was handled properly.
“If the case isn’t resolved, we’ll do that and prove that we’re correct,” Penza said. “There’s nothing amiss here. I can assure you, there’s nothing amiss.”
The dispute is more than likely the longest-running probate case in state history and has now bounced from Providence Probate Court to Superior Court to the R.I. Supreme Court, currently resting on Judge Licht’s calendar.
According to court documents, Factor (who is retired from Kirshenbaum and Kirshenbaum) and Rufino Mauricio were co-executors of the Mendes will. Mauricio died several years ago.
A 1979 accounting of Mendes’ real estate and total rent proceeds at the time, placed the estate value at just over $500,000. The recent motion stated the total was about $840,000. Neither amount includes the value of the funeral home.
“Imagine how much it’s worth today,” Mendes said. “It’s worth millions, plus interest. And we got nothing.”
That’s not true according to Penza, who said the three Mendes children received what they were owed with the entire process approved in Probate Court.
“They had the opportunity to dispute this along the way,” Penza said. “They didn’t do that.”
But Mendes claims he can document that before his father died, Factor’s firm was hired to transfer ownership of the Mendes Funeral Home and Intersection Realty Inc. to the Mendes children. Intersection Realty owned the Mendes’ multi-family homes.
“We can prove that,” Mendes said. “My father signed the document. We have it. [Factor] never gave it to the Secretary of State, but the transfer was still legally binding. It just wasn’t honored.”
In fact, court documents allege Factor and Mauricio conducted a secret meeting and appointed “Factor as president, treasurer, and secretary of Intersection Realty.”
The lawsuit accuses Factor of “breach of fiduciary duty” and “negligence.” Mendes said the real estate was allowed to deteriorate and eventually sold for well below fair market value, with some selling at tax sales.
The defendants argue the transfer of ownership was never requested by Mendes.
“[Factor] has a memory that is completely opposite that,” Penza said. “That Mr. Mendes wanted his estate handled through his will.”
The will called for the estate to be distributed equally to the three Mendes children when “the youngest child reached age thirty.”
Unexplained, and fuel to the family’s suspicions, is why Factor filed the final accounting for the Mendes estate in 2008, nearly 20 years after the last piece of real estate was sold.
“Of course it doesn’t make any sense to me,” Mendes said. “It doesn’t make any sense why the court allowed that to go on. It’s ridiculous.”
Penza acknowledges his client should’ve closed the estate much sooner. But he insists the Mendes children received tens of thousands of dollars, with claims that they’re owed millions more “way off.”
“Even if you took this case on its best day, you’re talking about a range of $27,000 to $78,000,” Penza said.
Mendes said the children received only “thousands of dollars.”
“There’s no way we received what we were owed,” Mendes said. “And the property was transferred to us before my father died. We can prove that. It’s indisputable.”
If there is one point of agreement between the two sides in this 40-year-long legal fight, it’s this; Neither side knows when it will be settled.