When Centre School District board clerk Traci Alt received a $647.50 faxed invoice for textbooks last semester from Scholastic School Supply of Franklinville, New Jersey, she had her doubts.
“It seemed a little fishy,” Alt said. “Most invoices are mailed.”
Alt was right.
Last week, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced that he filed a lawsuit against the man allegedly behind a New Jersey company that sent false invoices for textbooks that were never purchased or delivered to 317 Kansas public schools, including in Hillsboro and at Centre.
Centre schools received two invoices for $647.50 each: one for the elementary school and another for the high school.
Alt conducted her own investigation by contacting school officials to make sure no one had ordered or received any books from New Jersey company. She set the bills aside until her board clerk colleagues online began discussing the bogus invoices arriving at their own schools, at which time Alt shared that she received two.
Soon after, the state’s attorney general’s office and department of education issued warnings to school districts throughout the state.
“Board clerks talk amongst ourselves, and that was how we originally discovered they were all false invoices,” Alt said. “I asked, ‘Did anyone else receive a false invoice from Scholastic?’
Alt said the response she received from other board clerks was, “I did. I did. I did.”
The attorney general’s office, which filed the lawsuit Jan. 7, wants the Shawnee County District Court to order Robert S. Armstrong to pay a $634,000 civil penalty. The AG’s office says that Armstrong does business as Scholastic School Supply of Franklinville, N.J. and has violated the Kansas False Claims Act.
Armstrong’s company is not affiliated with Scholastic Inc., a well-known children’s book publisher, the attorney general’s office said.
Jerry Hinerman, business manager at Hillsboro USD 410, said he heard about the scam through the association of school business officials international and on a national listserv site. So when he saw the suspicious invoice arrive from New Jersey a couple months ago, he knew not to pay it.
“The name was very similar to a company we do business with in Wisconsin,” Hinerman said.