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Felony Charges Against Former School District Manager

Phyllis Fletcher
10/26/2011

The King County Prosecutor filed felony charges Tuesday against a former manager in Seattle Public Schools, Silas Potter. Dan Satterberg charges Potter with stealing over a quarter million dollars from the school district. KUOW's Phyllis Fletcher reports.

TRANSCRIPT

Silas Potter ran programs at the Seattle School District that were supposed to help small businesses owned by women and minorities. The programs were designed to help businesses get contracts doing construction or maintenance work for the district.

Potter appeared to use one of the programs to funnel $1.8 million to friends and associates, under the guise of work that wasn't done or wasn't necessary.

For example, supposedly some of the contractors taught classes about how to run a small business. But in some cases, there was no evidence the classes happened, and some of the teachers signed the sign–in sheets as students.

County Prosecutor Satterberg says Potter stole about a quarter of a million dollars from the district through shell companies. They were called Grace of Mercy and Emerald City Cleaning.

Satterberg: "Emerald City Cleaning said they were going to provide janitorial services, clean up after these classes. They may have had a couple of day laborers use a broom on one occasion, but they certainly did nothing close to $83,000 of work."

As for Grace of Mercy:

Satterberg: "A search of Silas Potter's school district computer files showed documents designed as invoices bearing the Grace of Mercy name. Signatures on those actual invoices vary in form, and investigators believe that a large number of them are forged."

Investigators found that Potter took cash withdrawals or had cashier's checks cut to him from these companies, and that the money came from payments he authorized as a manager with Seattle Public Schools.

Satterberg says two people helped Potter do this: David Johnson and Lorrie Sorensen.

Potter and Johnson could face up to three and a half years in jail. Sorensen could face up to a year.

A handful of politicians, activists, corporations and civil rights organizations had contracts with Seattle Public Schools under Potter's watch; contracts the state auditor called "questionable." Satterberg says he has not found any of them to be criminal, and that everyone they interviewed cooperated — except two people. They asked for immunity before they would talk and Satterberg wouldn't give it, so their investigations are ongoing.

Those two people are Leon "Skip" Rowland and Tony Orange. Rowland is a longtime activist for minority–owned businesses. Orange is a civil rights activist and was longtime director of the Central Area Motivation Program.

Potter, Johnson and Sorensen are scheduled for arraignment November 8.

The Seattle School District is trying get some of its money back through insurance that covers employee theft.

I'm Phyllis Fletcher, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2011, KUOW

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