When it comes to Buffalo’s parking meter thieves, Francis Tronolone was a small-time player.

He stole $9,000 in quarters over a 10-year period – a small slice of the total stolen by city workers – but that didn’t stop a federal judge Wednesday from sending him to prison for six months.

“Thirty-six thousand quarters,” U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara said at one point during the on-again, off-again sentencing. “That’s a lot of quarters.”

Tronolone, 33, a parking meter mechanic, became the fourth Buffalo city employee to acknowledge he stole from the same meters he was supposed to fix or collect from and the third to go to prison. The fourth defendant awaits sentencing.

Uncovered by the Brown administration and investigated by the FBI, the thefts have so far amounted to $303,000. In sentencing Tronolone, Arcara referred to a “culture of thievery” that once existed in the city’s Parking Enforcement Department, an allegation echoed by others, including Tronolone.

“Corruption was rampant," he told the judge.

Arcara referred several times to Tronolone’s “breach” of the public trust in ordering him to repay the money he stole from the city.

“He made the wrong choices, and he’s here to pay the price,” defense attorney Thomas J. Eoannou told Arcara.

The first two city employees who admitted their thefts – James V. Bagarozzo and Lawrence Charles – were arrested in December 2011.

Bagarozzo acknowledged 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., also has pleaded guilty to stealing quarters. He will be sentenced in October.

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.

Shortly afterward, Helfer 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. The prosecutor was Assistant U.S. Attorney Maura K. O’Donnell.