October 20, 2014
Fake Scholastic Swindler suspect arrested, revealing a tale of pizza and woe
by Liam O’Brien
You may remember when we reported on the fake Scholastic textbook scam, in which schools received phony invoices from “Scholastic School Supply LLC” for books they hadn’t actually purchased.
The Daily Journal now reports that Robert Armstrong of Franklinville, New Jersey, was arrested in connection with the scam by USPS Inspection Agents, and has been charged with one count of mail fraud. The Journal, along with the Courier-Post, detail the allegations against Armstrong; that he allegedly distributed fake invoices to 73,000 schools across the country through a bulk mailing service, which allegedly led to a take of almost $300,000.
That’s a pretty hefty amount—especially considering that no schools have admitted to falling for the scam. The Better Business Bureau’s page for Scholastic School Supply notes:
BBB is unaware of any school actually paying the invoice, however, complainants want the company to cease and desist further collection efforts.
When the extent of the scam became public in September, multiple schools reported the fake invoices but categorically denied, or simply remained mum about, anyone actually paying the invoices—in Nebraska, Oregon, Indiana, Maine, Rhode Island, and Arizona. Which means that if these funds seized from Armstrong’s bank accounts are indeed the spoils of this scam, then math would indicate that over 400 schools paid the $647.50 invoiced—and they’re keeping quiet. Maybe this is a function of the municipal finance structure for public schools (do they have scam insurance? I don’t know, I’m just a humble publisher) or maybe it’s just bad optics if they admit gullibility.
Armstrong has worked in education before, and has recently faced financial and legal troubles. The Better Business Bureau for New Jersey lists him as the primary contact for Scholastic School Supply (though it’s unclear if this information was added to the website after the arrest), as well as indicating that Armstrong runs a related business at a Franklinville address, a Google search of which leads to multiple reports of fraud. This led me to court documents that indicate Armstrong was recently involved in bankruptcy proceedings, in his capacity as the owner of several Little Caesar’s franchises.
After filing for chapter 11, several suits were brought against him by Little Caesar’s Corporate, one for trademark infringement (which was dismissed) and one for breach of contract (which he lost). A PhillyBurbs article from 2011 reported that “Bob Armstrong” had recently purchased a Fantastic Sam’s hair salon franchise in addition to his “several Little Caesar’s Pizza franchises in South Jersey”, and the article describes Armstrong as a “former teacher and assistant principal”. The Courier-Post reported in 2006 that Armstrong was arrested on the charge of illegal gambling after being allegedly observed taking $16,000 in wagers. At the time of the arrest, Armstrong was the assistant principal of Sooy Elementary School. The case was assigned to a grand jury, but there’s no publicly accessible information on it beyond this.
The charges Armstrong faces for the Scholastic scam are very serious, and can carry a 20-year prison sentence if convicted; Armstrong’s attorney says his client denies any fraudulent intent. If any educators out there have a better explanation for why schools that got scammed haven’t spoken to the press, I’d love to hear it: email me at liam [at] mhpbooks.com.
Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.