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Sheri Reid and Gary Rushing Jr., shown in their engagement photo, were planning an Aug. 11 wedding at Christinas in Foxboro. (Submitted photo)

Brides, grooms caught in crossfire
By Frank Mortimer

As a forward spotter for artillery, Army Staff Sgt. Gary Rushing Jr., a 32-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, is skilled at pinpointing danger in the distance. On a far different front, Rushing's fiancee, Sheri Reid - as a mother and a long-time early childhood teacher - is adept at anticipating trouble to keep kids safe.

But nothing in the vigilant couple's experience could prepare them for the hardship they face just weeks before their wedding at Christina's Functions on Route 1, where the building's owners and their evicted business tenant remain at war, leaving brides, grooms and pre-paid wedding plans caught in a cratered no man's land.

"The only thing she should be worried about is the final touches - what she's going to look like at her wedding. It shouldn't be, at the last minute, is the wedding going to happen?" Rushing said of his 30-year-old bride-to-be.

The couple, who rent an apartment in North Attleboro and each have a 10-year-old daughter, remain unsure of the status of their Aug. 11 wedding, after trying unsuccessfully to get their $7,500 wedding deposit back from Marjorie Clapprood and Chris Spinazzola, whose restaurant and functions management company with partner Michael Intoccia, M.J. Holding Corp., was evicted by landlords Nicholas and Demitri Panagopoulos in a court consent order effective July 1.

The businesses were back in Norfolk Superior Court again last Thursday - along with upset brides - seeking to sort out the legal tangle while brides like Reid fear being jilted by circumstances not of their making.

"It's not their fault that it happened," Reid said of the Panagopoulos brothers, who have offered to honor this and other couples' weddings at Christina's, 2 Washington St., if Clapprood and Spinazzola return the deposits needed to help cover the costs.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Spinazzola suggested that their corporate partner Intoccia has gone into business with the landlords, thereby inheriting not only the assets but the liabilities - including deposits - associated with dozens of events already booked through 2013.

Suzanne D. Kane, office manager for the Panagopoulos brothers, said Intoccia is not a partner of the brothers but rather that, as the manager of record on the facility's liquor license, Intoccia must be on the premises for the license to be used.

Selectmen have scheduled a July 24 public hearing, at 7:15 p.m. to consider a request to transfer that liquor license from M.J. Holding Corp. to D & N Corporation, a transfer the parties agreed to in a June 1 consent order.

That order allows the landlord, the Panagopoulos brothers, to "take full possession of the premises" as of 12:05 a.m. July 1, allows M.J. Holding to take wedding bookings to another location, but also says any functions that remain at Christina's will be serviced by the landlord "provided that all deposits received by" M.J. Holding are transferred to the landlord prior to the date of the event.

"We've been dealing with upset brides for 14 days - it's been a nuthouse here," Kane said of Christina's. "We've had brides crying."

As though mirroring her fiance's military bearing, Reid is not crying - at least not in public - but rather evinces a determination to "get to the bottom" of why her deposit hasn't been returned, with the help of the courts if necessary, a slow route which does not help just a month before the event, to which they have invited nearly 150 guests from several states.

Rushing was scheduled to fly to Fort Hood, Texas on July 13 to pick up his daughter, Samantha Rushing, for a month-long visit highlighted by the wedding.

On a trip to Maine, Rushing proposed to Reid a month after his December 2010 return from his deployment in Afghanistan. He served in Iraq in 2005, as a forward observer for artillery, and is a member of the Massachusetts National Guard.

The couple saved for the wedding, giving a $2,500 deposit to Christina's in February 2011 and $5,000 more this February.

Asked Wednesday if and when they plan to return Rushing and Reid's deposit, Clapprood said, "It's our understanding that M.J. (Holding) Corporation is responsible. We're in endlessly frustrating litigation."

Reid, however, produced a document from the Secretary of the Commonwealth stating that M.J. Holding Corp. was dissolved on June 16, 2012, which increased her worry about her ability to recover the deposit.

Reid also showed a copy of a "request for refund of deposit" form which she signed on June 28 requesting her deposit back and releasing Clapprood and Spinazzola by name from various potential liabilities.

Reid said she should have been handed her full refund back in exchange for that formal request and release, but got nothing.

Spinazzola conceded that in a late-June phone call - Rushing says it was the day after Reid signed the release - Spinazzola agreed to go to the bank and immediately give Rushing at least a partial refund - one-third of the $7,500 deposit.

That did not happen, however, and Spinazzola admits he never called Rushing back.

"I didn't call him back after that - that's what I'm most apologetic for," Spinazzola said. "I should have called him back and told him I couldn't do it."

Spinazzola said he lacked the ready cash because vendors servicing his two remaining Christina's weddings at the end of June demanded full payment of past debts or would refuse the services.

Asked if they simply lack the money to pay back this and other deposits, Spinazzola said that's a legal question.

"I couldn't say to him that we could get his full deposit back because we were in litigation" which tied up the corporation's assets, Spinazzola said.

He and Clapprood said they are working to help couples find other venues and, themselves a married couple, they know how important weddings are.

He said he feels particulary bad to be letting down a member of the military. "We have a long history in that facility supporting military charities."

"We're trying to deal with this the best we can," Spinazzola said. "We're going to disappoint some people but we're going to try to make a difference in their weddings." He said the disappointment would be the couples possibly not getting elsewhere the "quality of event" the couples had come to them for - and "disappointment that they're caught up in this turmoil."

He said he will get back to Rushing, when he has answers, but that he doesn't know when that will be.

Meanwhile, Kim Reid, Sheri's mother, said her 10-year-old granddaughter, Krista, is asking questions about the event, for which the child - like the bride and bridesmaids - already has a lovely dress.

"She said it makes me sad because I want mommy to be happy," Kim quoted the child. "I want mom and Gary to get married so we can be a family."