DADE CITY — Julie Illes was taken with the man who walked through the door of her travel agency in 2010. Daren Randall Trusty claimed he was a Delta Air Lines pilot, that he lived at Saddlebrook Resort, that he was engaged and that his wallet held an American Express Platinum card. She hired him to book trips for her clients.
Seven months later, she found she had been taken for more than $11,000. Authorities said the total amount stolen from Illes and her clients topped $30,000.
"Everything about him was a lie," said Illes, owner of A World of Adventures in Wesley Chapel. "He was broke before he came to work here, and he lived the high life on my dime."
A mother of four, Illes was in court Friday along with her family and three clients. All wanted Trusty, who was convicted in August of scheming to defraud and who fled his trial as jurors deliberated his fate, to receive the maximum 15-year sentence.
"Trusty is a liar, a thief, a con man and a criminal," said Susan Rapp, who with her husband lost more than $15,000 on trips booked through the former Macy's clerk. "He has no respect for the law."
Trusty, 46, was arrested in 2011 after working for seven months at the travel agency. Prosecutors said he defrauded the company and two clients of between $20,000 and $50,000.
Clients testified during the trial that Trusty booked trips and then called them to say he had gotten a better deal, but it had to be booked with a high-end credit card or with cash. He told them he had covered the amount on his own card and to make personal checks out to him.
The clients never took the trips or got their money back.
Trusty, who has at least three theft-related felonies on his record, and who once stole his grandfather's credit card, testified he had reasonable explanations for the thousands of dollars that were put into his bank account. Records revealed luxury car rentals, mall shopping sprees, and $500 grocery store bills.
On Friday, he apologized to the Rapps and his other victim, Larry Walter, who lost $4,400. He brought in a cashier's check for $25,000, which he said he got in an accident settlement. His mother, Shirley, pleaded with Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa to give him house arrest. He has cancer and would be medically neglected in prison, she said.
"He is a good person," Mrs. Trusty said. "He has made some really bad decisions, but he's sorry for them." She said her oldest son died in 2003.
"I can't lose another son," she said.
As his jury deliberated, Trusty, who was free on bail, disappeared. When he failed to respond to phone calls, Siracusa issued a warrant for his arrest. A Seminole County sheriff's deputy captured Trusty about a week later as Trusty drove near Apopka.
On Friday, Trusty said he had phone problems. He rushed back to the courthouse at 6:08 p.m., but the courthouse was deserted, a statement Siracusa disputed.
Trusty said he fled because he "was having a nervous breakdown."
When the judge asked him what his sentence should be, Trusty suggested no more than two years in prison. "I have not harmed someone," he said.
Siracusa then delivered a scathing lecture. "You have chosen not to be held accountable for your actions for a quarter century," he said. "That ends today.
"I booked you a room in the Florida Department of Corrections for the next 15 years."