TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A federal grand jury in Tampa has indicted Florida DOT worker Tracy Dean Tronco and her husband Alejo Tronco-Diaz for stealing $370,000 in grant funds intended to provide transportation and improve mobility for poor, elderly and disabled people. But to hear Tronco tell it, that never happened. “I was not indicted by any federal grand jury,” Tronco said Monday.
Tracy Tronco resigned from her job at the DOT in April 2016, was arrested last week and bonded out of jail. Her husband remains at large. In a brief interview at her Lakeland home Monday Tronco refused to discuss the case or the whereabouts of her fugitive husband.
According to the 19-page federal indictment obtained by Eight on Your Side, the theft scheme began on June 11, 2010. The DOT’s Inspector General Robert Clift says the theft conspiracy ran undetected for five years until August 2015 when Tronco changed jobs. That’s when the FDOT figured out she was married to Alejo Tronco-Diaz and another DOT worker noticed irregularities in her files.
“She was a trusted employee,” said Clift. A consequent IG investigation unraveled wrongdoing and FDOT notified federal authorities who began a criminal investigation. Clift says during the five year period when Tronco was stealing grant money she was the only one reviewing and approving applications. Now, Clift says that process requires three people. Clift tells Eight On Your Side Tronco had previously worked in the DOT Comptroller’s office, was a certified Guardian Ad Litem and no one had any reason to doubt her honesty until she transferred to Bartow and another worker notified management about her suspicions. “We depend on our employees to do the right thing in accordance with their jobs and position descriptions and we have confidence that 99 percent of our employees do that,” Clift said.
According to the federal grand jury indictment Tracy Tronco ran the grant program that disbursed federal funds to phony transportation services involving her husband. The DOT was fooled for years by false evidence of expenditures–checks that were never cashed– submitted by the couple to prove they were spending money on vehicles, infrastructure and maintenance on behalf of two religious institutions they founded. One of those “church mission” locations is the house in Lakeland they now live in which is surrounded by junk cars and a boat. Another is now a vacant storefront in Plant City.
It’s not clear where the money went that was intended to help poor, elderly and disabled people but neighbors say the couple did engage in porch front preaching at their home and were generous with local kids. “They even had a little carnival over there for the kids last summer,” said neighbor Nancy Guthrie.
The DOT says it will be up to the court system to recover the $370,000 in grant money taken by the Troncos that was intended to help poor, elderly and disabled people get around and improve their mobility. They insist the federal program is a worthwhile and much needed program https://www.transit.dot.gov/funding/grants/enhanced-mobility-seniors-individuals-disabilities-section-5310 when it works as it planned. In this case, it did not.
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