He admits picking forbidden fruit

A years-long feud between neighbors over fruit is now in the hands of the law.

By JOEL ANDERSON, Times Staff Writer
Published December 20, 2007

SPRING HILL - While mulling over a half-completed jigsaw puzzle in her den on Monday, Ruth Snow glanced up to see one of her neighbors ambling over to the tangerine tree in her backyard.

Finally, her waning patience had borne some considerable fruit.

Snow wasted little time before calling the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, turning a long-running dispute between next-door neighbors into a case on the local court docket.

Italo Tomaselli, 80, now faces a misdemeanor charge of theft for allegedly swiping a few tangerines from Snow's tree.

"I never dreamed it would go this far," said Tomaselli, standing in the shade of a sagging grapefruit tree in his backyard on Wednesday. "It's my fault ... to get a tangerine only? I've got my own trees."

Snow said her problems with Tomaselli really started five years ago, not long after the death of her husband.

The 81-year-old widow, who lives on Statler Avenue in Spring Hill, said Tomaselli has persistently plucked fruit off her trees for several years.

Hoping to avoid further problems, Snow had a couple of grapefruit and tangerine trees cut down in her backyard. She said that cost her about $2,000 - a princely sum for someone living only on Social Security checks - but she felt the money was worth the price.

"I thought he'd get the message," Snow said. "But he's an ignorant thing."

Tomaselli, who moved to Spring Hill from Chicago in 1993 with his wife, admitted to taking the occasional piece of fruit but said he did it to prevent them from going to ruin.

After spending three months in a German concentration camp near the end of World War II in 1945, Tomaselli said he can no longer stomach such wastefulness.

"I saw hunger," Tomaselli said. "I didn't want to let all that fruit go to waste."

Either way, Snow seized upon the opportunity to call the Sheriff's Office when she saw Tomaselli walk off with a tangerine. Once deputies arrived on the scene and asked if he had any fruit, Tomaselli handed over the piece.

The deputies returned the tangerine to Snow, according to a report from the Sheriff's Office.

But Snow won't be satisfied until Tomaselli stays off her property, which might be a bit of a problem since neither of them is willing to buy a fence.

"I like to be open, I like to be free," Tomaselli said. "She should buy one if she wants it so bad."

"I hope he learns from this," Snow said. "I don't want to see him go to jail. But I don't mind seeing his butt in a sling."

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or 754-6120.