Silas Potter, Disgraced Former School District Manager Now Facing Theft Charges, Admits Taking Kickbacks

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Silas Potter is in trouble. Maybe that's why he's changed his tune. As the King County Prosecutor's office filed nine theft charges yesterday against the man accused of running a renegade program for Seattle Public Schools, a court document reveals that Potter admitted to police that he took kickbacks.

In the document (see probable cause filing in this packet released by prosecutors), Detective Keith Savas says he went to Tampa, Florida, to interview Potter in August. Potter was living there then, having left the school district. And an explosive state auditor's report had come out accusing Potter, who ran a program ostensibly aimed at helping small businesses, of handing out school district money to cronies who did little or nothing to earn it.

One of those alleged cronies was David Johnson, the head of what prosecutors say was a fictitious Tacoma non-profit called Grace of Mercy. Interviewed by The Seattle Times in March, Potter had strenuously denied getting kickbacks from Johnson.

Staring down a detective five months later, however, he reportedly 'fessed up. "Potter admitted that he conspired with David Johnson to obtain money from the SSD (Seattle School District) by creating invoices from Grace of Mercy for classes Johnson never taught," Savas wrote in the court document. Potter also admitted he "received cash from Johnson in return," according to Savas.

The kickback amounted to "only" $1,000 per month, Potter reportedly told the detective. That was, he said, $1,500 shy of his "dream" budget.

All in all, Potter, Johnson and a woman named Lorrie Sorensen--Johnson's live-in girlfriend--cheated the school district out of a quarter million dollars, according to prosecutors. They did so not only through Grace of Mercy but through a second allegedly fictitious company created by Johnson and Sorensen, called Emerald City Cleaning.

At one barbecue at Potter's house, Sorensen told Detective Savas, Johnson and Potter laughed it up about the easy money they were getting from the district.

Johnson and Sorensen are now also facing theft charges. They, and Potter, are all scheduled to be arraigned Nov. 8.

Noteworthy as these charges are, bringing a new gravity to the financial scandal that engulfed the district, what's almost as interesting is who prosecutors' decided not to charge. The prosecutor's office ticked off all the people it cleared in an unusual and lengthy report on its investigation (see the "investigation and review" included in the packet). Among those off the hook are Potter's former boss Fred Stephens (who also got a clean bill of health on Monday from the state auditor's office in regard to another controversy, concerning the sale of surplused Martin Luther King Elementary.)

In addition, prosecutors said they had no evidence to charge most of the contractors Potter hired, who were able to show that they had done something for the money they received. Whether their work was good, whether the money they charged was justified, these were areas that prosecutors did not go into.

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Given how little contractors had to show to clear themselves, it's curious that two men chose not to talk to prosecutors. Those are Tony Orange (pictured at left), a longtime activist in the African American community, and Leon Rowland, head of a company called Banner Cross.

Their refusal to cooperate may cost them. The prosecutor's office says both men remain under investigation.

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