L.A. School Workers Scheme to Steal Textbooks, Remind Us How Screwed Up the Industry Really is


A dozen employees in four of South California's most financially strapped school districts have been charged with helping steal thousands of books for a buyer in a shocking textbook theft scheme.

According to the 37-page indictment, Long Beach business Corey Frederick ran the book-selling scheme by recruiting employees including two librarians, a campus supervisor, and a former warehouse manager to steal thousands of books from schools in Los Angeles, Lynwood, Bellflower, and Inglewood.

During the course of the operation, which ran from 2008 to December 2010, the employees were paid a whopping $200,000 to steal textbooks in economics, physics, anatomy, physiology, literature and language arts. Frederick would then resell the stolen books, used and new, to popular textbook distributors, including Amazon, Bookbyte, Follett Educational Services and, in some cases, back to the very school districts from which they were stolen. 

His business, Doorkeeper Textz, is reportedly one of the Los Angeles Unified School District's approved used book vendors in 2010. According to court records, the employees stole at least 7,000 textbooks from the L.A. Unified district alone.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey called the crime ring a "web of deceit at our children's expense."

"Taking books out of the hands of public school students is intolerable, especially when school employees sell them for their own personal profit," Lacey said.

Not only is the crime a horrible violation of morals and ethics, it also signals a new alarming line of crime as textbook costs skyrocket. 

According to the American Enterprise Institute, textbook prices, particularly college titles, are 812% than they were three decades ago and are increasing faster than tuition, health care costs, and housing prices. And according to the National Association of College Stores, the average college student spends about $655 on textbooks annually. Of course, with a single textbook easily costing as much as $300, the total could possibly be higher.

As textbook prices continue to rise, textbook theft is becoming a rising concern for schools, bookstores, and students across the nation. Similar to the common practice of stealing and reselling items such as iPods or bikes, stealing textbooks and selling them back to a bookstore or an online vendor is an easy way to make a quick buck, especially with some textbooks valued at hundreds of dollars. 

In 2010, University of Virginia student Stephen Lambert was charged with grand larceny for stealing almost $20,000 worth of textbooks from the campus bookstore and reselling them on Half.com. Last month, an Oklahoma textbook salesman is accused of stealing $2.8 million worth of textbooks. And in a bizarre heist last year, three employees and a hot dog vendor were found guilty of swiping more than $150,000 worth of books from the George Washington University bookstore in a month-long scheme. 

But as schools, universities, and bookstores implement various measures to prevent textbook thefts, the root of the problem has been left unsolved.

"For years, a handful of powerful textbook publishers have monopolized the industry and driven up costs four times the rate of inflation," said Nicole Allen, textbooks advocate for the Student PIRGs.

Although it is a perennial complaint that has sparked growing concerns about the rise in student debt and costs of higher education and left consumers baffled at the price tag attached to some cardboard, paper, and ink, it is an issue worth looking it considering the consequences due to this alarming trend.

In addition to the rise in high and low-end textbook theft schemes, many students are forced to alternative and unpleasant solutions including, downloading unauthorized texts, copying classmates' books, or trying to get through the class with no textbook at all, just to avoid the astronomical costs of buying a simple book. 

A few years ago, a law was passed requiring publishers to disclose the cost of their books directly to the professors assigning them that would allow them to consider just how much their assigned book would cost students. Although it was a step in the right direction, it's not a solution. Perhaps more innovative solutions such as direct legislation and open source textbooks can help slow down the rising prices of textbooks.

The value of education and excitement that should come with a new book should not have to be reduced to groans and whines about a tiny but heavy price sticker on the back of a book.