Fiancee waging fruits-and-veggies fight for Fumo

Vince Fumo and his fiancee, Carolyn Zinni, during his 2009 corruption trial. The former state senator is in a federal prison in Kentucky.
Vince Fumo and his fiancee, Carolyn Zinni, during his 2009 corruption trial. The former state senator is in a federal prison in Kentucky. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 24, 2013

Vince Fumo used to be able to move political mountains. Now, he needs his fiancee to campaign to get him a nice piece of broccoli.

Still looking after the apple of her South Philadelphia eye even while he's away in federal prison, Carolyn Zinni has launched an online campaign to get her convicted true love and his fellow federal inmates some fresh veggies with dinner.

"Because My Loved one is away in a Federal Prison Camp and has NOT had a piece of fruit or fresh vegetable in almost 4 YEARS!!" Zinni wrote on a petition filed on the website change.org, where it had gathered 27 signatures by Tuesday evening.

"I thought Michelle Obama was all about health and fresh foods for schools. What about prisons? Are these men and woman less valuable? This is just wrong!!"

Zinni is calling her movement "Real Food for Felons," and wants 100 signatures from people who agree that inmates should have fresh fruits and vegetables available at every meal.

In an interview from her dress shop in Springfield, Delaware County, Zinni said the petition was her idea.

"Vince could care less if he eats fruit. We're Italian, we eat beans and meat and broccoli rabe," Zinni said while a customer tried on a dress. "We wouldn't expect to get that [in prison], but we would hope to get fresh food."

"They used to call it mush," she added. "The [federal] Bureau of Prisons has always been awful in terms of feeding prisoners. Go down the chow line."

Zinni started the petition a week ago and sent out an e-mail blast via the change.org website Tuesday morning, warning that a poor diet would lead to heart attack and strokes among inmates, "and cost our government much more in the end."

Fumo, 69, who for two decades was Philadelphia's most powerful state legislator, has had two heart attacks and cited an array of health problems, including addictions to Xanax and alcohol, in attempting to get his sentence reduced.

Among the petition signers was Philadelphia advertising executive Elliott Curson, a friend, who wrote, "It's a matter of staying healthy."

Steven Liggett of Newark, Ohio, opined: "If you're not going to kill them any time soon; you are obliged to treat them right."

Fumo marked his third anniversary behind bars Aug. 31 at the minimum security camp in Ashland, Ky.

A typical meal is patties made of minced chicken accompanied by canned corn, Zinni said.

"Maybe there would be one slice of a tomato," she said.

She cited the Prison Bureau's commissary list, which lets relatives purchase "vegetable flakes," fruit and cream oatmeal, and tropical Skittles for their inmate, but no veggies.

David Brewer, public information officer at Ashland, said the issue may be that Fumo is declining the fresh foods available to prisoners.

The prisoners are typically served bananas and apples for breakfast and lunch, and vegetables on a daily basis, Brewer said, though he could not give an example of a fresh vegetable on the meal plan.

"Fresh fruit is served on a daily basis," he said. "With the vegetables, I saw them eating spinach. That's going to be a canned vegetable. I do know they're getting fresh food."

Brewer has been at the Kentucky facility for three weeks after transferring from Lewisburg, Pa. He said he had met with inmates at the "camp" section and heard no complaints about the food.

He said knew who Fumo is and was not aware that he had any complaints: "He was a senator, right?"

Fumo is serving a term of five years and one month on corruption charges. He recently put real estate holdings worth millions of dollars in Zinni's name.

Fumo is on track for release to a halfway house next summer, and, with time for good behavior, final release on Feb. 2, 2014.

Zinni said she could not be more excited for his release. She has made 45 trips to Kentucky to see him. Tending to the real estate holdings, Zinni said, she spent a week after Hurricane Sandy getting their Margate beach house shoveled out of the sand that covered the Kenyon Avenue block. A condo in Ventnor sustained flood damage, she said.

"I'm mad about him," Zinni said. "More so than ever. He's fantastic and brilliant. He's wonderful. You come in and he's warm, as best as anyone can be. Even in our situation, he finds a way to be romantic and loving."

Despite recurring rumors, Zinni and Fumo have not tied the knot, she said: "I'm looking for a marriage, not a wedding."


Contact Amy S. Rosenberg at 609-576-1973 or arosenberg@phillynews.com. Follow on twitter @amysrosenberg.

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