DADE CITY — People trusted Daren Randall Trusty.
Lawrence Walter gave him cash toward his trip to Ireland. Susan Rapp made a check out to his personal account when he said he could upgrade her airline tickets.
That trust turned out to be misplaced, prosecutors say. In the end, all of them lost more than $20,000 before authorities arrested Trusty, 46, on a scheme to defraud charge about eight months after he was fired from the travel agency A World of Adventures.
"He had a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget," Assistant State Attorney Phil Matthey said during opening arguments at Trusty's trial on Monday. "He stole, he lied, he cheated, he deceived, he embezzled from a number of people."
Matthey said Trusty spent the money on shopping, luxury car rentals, flowers, $500 grocery bills, "and it goes on and on."
Assistant Public Defender Marie Mabry told the jury that the state could not prove its case because the math would not add up.
"Follow the numbers," she said.
Matthey said Julie Illes hired Trusty in May 2010 to work at her Wesley Chapel travel agency. She later entrusted more daily operations to him. With that came more opportunity to rip people off, prosecutors said.
Walter testified that he paid a $1,000 deposit for a trip to Ireland. Later, Trusty offered a 10 percent discount if he would pay the balance of the $5,000 trip within 48 hours.
He said Trusty told him it had to be done with an American Express Platinum card. Walter didn't have one, but his wife, who was in the car, did. When he returned, Trusty said he had already paid with his own American Express Platinum card. He required cash to pay it off.
Walter went to a bank, withdrew about $4,500 and gave it to Trusty.
He said Trusty promised to email him a receipt. It never came.
Mabry asked Walter whether he thought the situation odd.
"I believed Mr. Trusty," Walter said. "I'm sorry."
Walter said the agency repaid him about $2,000. He never took the trip.
Rapp, a retail worker, said she lost about $15,000.
She said she and her husband paid Trusty more than $4,000 for plane fare to the Netherlands after he said he could get their tickets upgraded.
"He said we had to do immediately or the two-for-one would not be any good," she said. Rapp said Trusty said it had to be booked with an American Express Platinum card.
"We did not have one, and he was unable to put it on a corporate card, but he could put it on his personal card and we could pay him with a check," she said.
Later she said Trusty told them about a discounted trip to Southeast Asia available only to travel agents and said he would like to accompany them. He quoted a cost of $8,956, and he would pay his own way.
"We thought we were friends," she said of Trusty.
The couple never took the trips. And Trusty, prosecutors said, was never issued an American Express Platinum card.
The trial continues today.