If you’re keeping a tally of City Hall workers who stole quarters from Buffalo’s parking meters, add another name to your list.
Francis Tronolone, a parking meter mechanic, is the third employee of the city’s parking enforcement department to pocket quarters from the same meters he was hired to fix.
Tronolone, 33, pleaded guilty Friday and, as part of a plea deal, admitted stealing $9,000 over a 10-year period.
“The defendant would carry a cooler, the type of cooler you might use to carry your lunch, and fill it with quarters,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura K. O’Donnell.
Tronolone, a 10-year veteran of the department, is the fourth city employee to be charged with stealing from the city’s meters. Three of the four have admitted their guilt.
Uncovered by the Brown administration and investigated by the FBI, the thefts have so far amounted to at least $234,000.
At one point Friday, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, who has presided over all of the parking meter cases, expressed surprise at the number of city workers involved in the thefts.
“How many people were doing this?” the judge asked.
O’Donnell referred to the two other employees who have already admitted their guilt and another employee currently facing charges.
She also noted that Tronolone stole quarters from meters that had been rigged by other meter mechanics.
“The government’s investigation is ongoing,” she added.
Arcara also asked Tronolone why he would do such a thing.
“Bad decision-making,” he said.
Tronolone’s defense lawyer would not comment on the involvement of other city employees but described his client as a small-time player.
“This was a very small amount of money over a long period of time,” said Thomas J. Eoannou. “He was in no way a major player.”
The first two employees charged in the investigation – James V. Bagarozzo and Lawrence Charles – were arrested in December 2011.
Bagarozzo admitted stealing $210,000 in quarters over an eight-year period and eventually was sentenced to 2½ years in federal prison.
Charles, who blames his wrongdoing on a “culture of corruption” that existed in the parking enforcement department, stole $15,000 and was given six months in prison.
Another city employee, Franklin Lopez Jr., has been charged with stealing quarters. His case is still pending.
Lopez, 33, is accused of stealing $1,300 in quarters, but prosecutors, noting a series of unexplained cash deposits and payments, have said he may be responsible for more than $89,000 in missing money.
City officials began to suspect wrongdoing when a review of parking meter revenues by Parking Commissioner Kevin J. Helfer revealed a dramatic disparity between money collected from individual meters and money collected from pay-and-display machines.
Helfer, who was in the courtroom Friday, inspected some of the meters and found many of them rigged so quarters would remain in the upper compartment instead of flowing into the lower compartment.
Shortly afterward, he went to Mayor Byron W. Brown with his suspicions and the city authorized an internal investigation.
That, in turn, led to a criminal investigation by the FBI.
Tronolone is facing up to six months in prison.