Video added: Town shuts down White Pines Motel
The Town of Wareham has shut down the White Pines Motel on Cranberry Highway for lack of a valid motel license.
The motel was shut down on January 13, according to a Wareham Police press release. Board of Health records show that White Pines operator John D'Italia's motel license expired on December 21, 2010. (The White Pines property is owned by a trust, of which D'Italia's wife is a beneficiary.)
The White Pines has a long history of criminal activity, including distrubances, fights, and drug dealing, according to Wareham Police. The motel was the site of a double-stabbing last weekend, which resulted in the deaths of Wareham residents 35-year-old Leonard Bolia and 24-year-old Ryan Aponte. Richard Walling, 20, also of Wareham, was charged with manslaughter in the incident, and is held in lieu of $50,000 cash bail.
Town Administrator Mark Andrews said that a code-enforcement task force, chaired by Interim Police Chief Richard Stanley, has been in place for several months, and is charged with ensuring that Wareham businesses are in compliance with code requirements.
The White Pines may not be shut down for good. "They have every right to reapply" for a license, Andrews said.
However, the town Treasurer Collector's office shows that D'Italia is delinquent in tax payments, and owes the town more than $65,000, according to the press release. Town by-laws allow the licensing authority to deny a license to any party on the Treasurer Collector's delinquency list.
Additionally, Massachusetts General Law allows for a criminal penalty for motel owners who operate without a license, according to Wareham Police.
When presented with an order to cease operation, D'Italia told police that he wanted to contact his attorney. He returned two hours later, and was unable to produce any legally-binding documentation that would allow the White Pines Motel to remain open, according to police.
Wareham Police assisted the motel's guests with locating temporary housing in other local motels, and overnight accommodations in area churches, according to the press release.
Still, residents of the White Pines are worried about long-term housing. "I don't know what to do," said Gilbert Roger, who had been living at the motel for more than a year. "I'm stressed out."
Roger was collecting some of his belongs on January 14, something he claims he couldn't do when the motel was shut down the evening before. "We had to get out immediately, the police watched us leave," he said.
Contacted Tuesday, January 18, D'Italia said he and his family were trying to make the property better.
"We've put a ton of money into that place," said D'Italia, whose family purchased the property just over a year ago. "Our intentions were always to make it a nicer place."
D'Italia said he'd improved the facade, upgraded the heating system, painted, and taken out more than 20 dumpsters full of rubbish that came with the property. He had someone working on the roof last week before the motel was shut down, he said.
"We bought it to fix it up. It's been such an unsightly place for so many years," D'Italia said. "There's still a lot of work to be done."
D'Italia said he'd paid the town $5,000 toward his delinquent taxes on October 22. He added that he was not aware of and had received no notice that his motel license had expired until the town shut the property down.
As for the criminal activity at the property, D'Italia said he did his best to keep it out of the motel.
"We take copies of their [drivers'] license, we take their [license] plate numbers, we take whatever information we can get," D'Italia said. "But I can't ask these people, 'Do you sell drugs?' I can't frisk them."
After the motel was shut down, D'Italia took in two of its residents, including 64-year-old Ellen Robbins, who had no where else to go.
Robbins, who had been staying at the motel since last June, said she is on the waiting list for senior housing with the Wareham Housing Authority.
Had the D'Italias not taken her in, Robbins said she would have "lived in my car, probably." She added: "They've been sweethearts to me."
D'Italia said he is working with the town to determine the next steps for the property. We will update this story as more information becomes available.