Returning stolen items is ex-Port Manatee CFO's undoing

jdeleon@bradenton.comJuly 26, 2013 

MANATEE -- Robert James Armstrong, former Port Manatee deputy executive director and chief financial officer, tried to return goods allegedly stolen by his son and now faces a legal mess of his own.

Armstrong reportedly told detectives he returned the stolen items to the port, where his son had been fired two weeks before, because his son had no access to return the items himself.

Armstrong turned himself in to authorities late Wednesday to be charged as an accessory after the fact for returning items his son had allegedly stolen from Port Manatee.

The charge against Armstrong, 60, came as a result of the investigation into his son's string of theft charges. Armstrong reportedly told detectives he knew the items he returned to the port had been stolen. Video surveillance shows him paying for the items in the pawn shop, according to an arrest report.

Armstrong turned himself to the Manatee County Jail at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday after a judge signed a warrant for his arrest.

"It had been pre-arranged that he would turn himself

in," said Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow.

Armstrong immediately bonded out of jail for $7,500.

Calls to Armstrong were not returned.

His son, Robert Benton Armstrong, 25, is facing 24 counts of burglary, defrauding a pawn shop and dealing in stolen property. He remains in custody at the Manatee County jail.

Armstrong voluntarily submitted to an interview June 5 at the sheriff's office, where he was questioned about being in the Value Pawn Shop in Palmetto on May 27.

"He agreed that he was there and knew that he was on video," according to the arrest report.

He told detectives the items did not just reappear at the port. Armstrong said he called Walter Sharpe in port inventory control to notify him of the return May 28.

Armstrong said he told Sharpe, "the IBM computer and the projector that were missing from the inventory were back."

Several items had come up missing on inventories conducted between May 13 and May 15, Sharpe told detectives. He said he checked all over the office for the items May 16, May 17, May 20, May 21 and May 22.

Sharpe disputed Armstrong's claim he told him the items were returned. Sharpe told detectives Armstrong acted as if Sharpe wasn't looking hard enough and he had found items Sharpe had missed.

Carlos Buqueras, executive director for the Port Authority Port Manatee, said he had no knowledge of the thefts, according to the arrest report.

Detectives took a list of items pawned by Robert Benton Armstrong to see if serial numbers matched items redeemed by his father. The IBM computer and projector serial numbers matched those on file at the port.

Armstrong was promoted April 6 from his job as chief financial officer and senior director of business, earning $127,587 annually, to CFO and deputy executive director with a salary increase to $149,510. He was fired June 27 by Buqueras, who said he was no longer trustworthy.

During the investigation, Armstrong told police he knew his son had a drug problem. His son's prior criminal history includes charges of possessing heroin, cocaine, marijuana, Oxycodone, Xanax and Klonopin.

The younger Armstrong was in a drug rehabilitation program through the Bayside Church from September 2011 to June 2012. He had lived with a sponsor who reportedly was the victim of some his burglary charges.

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