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Theft charges brought against former Seattle schools manager

Paula Wissel
Interim Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield answers questions Tuesday following the announcement that charges of theft have been filed against former school district manager Silas Potter.

King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg has brought felony theft charges against former Seattle Public Schools manager Silas Potter Jr. and two associates, David A. Johnson and Lorrie Sorensen.

Potter was at the center of a financial scandal that led to the firing last March of former Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johsnon and Seattle Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Don Kennedy.

At a news conference in Seattle,  Satterberg said Potter is charged with nine counts of Theft in the First Degree.

'Abuse of trust'

Potter allegedly set up two sham companies, Emerald City Cleaning and Grace of Mercy, then billed the district for services that were never performed. At the time, Potter was head of  the now defunct Seattle School District's Regional Small Business Development Program, a program to promote the hiring of minority contractors.

"This is a case about abuse of trust. The district’s trust in Silas Potter was misplaced and abused. This case is in many ways similar to other large thefts from major corporate victims in our county that we’ve seen over the years except that it involves public money and public trust,” said Satterberg.

According to charging papers, Lorrie Sorensen, who is charged with four counts of Theft in the First Degree, told a Seattle Police detective that Emerald City Cleaning was "not a real company but a front for getting easy money from the school district."

Civil suits may follow

Prosecutors say there is no evidence that Potter’s supervisors at the school district were aware of his scheme. 

School Board member Michael deBell says the board may pursue civil charges against some of the people in the community Potter contracted with.

Below are the contracts awarded through Seattle School District's Regional Small Business Development Program while Silas Potter Jr. was in charge that were called of "questionable benefit to the school district" in a state audit issued on February 23, 2011:

  • The Urban League $595,000
  • Ralph Ibarra $156,350
  • The Platinum Group $65,700
  • Charles Rolland $65,925
  • Eddie Rye $48,400
  • Elaine Ko $17,800
  • Velma Veloria $10200
  • Tony Orange $161,759
  • Leon Rowland $91,833

Two seeking immunity

Prosecutor Satterberg says all of the contractors opened their books and cooperated with criminal investigators with the exception of Tony Orange and Leon Rowland, who refused unless they were granted immunity. He says the investigation of Orange and Rowland is continuing.

Joining Dan Satterberg and School Board member Michael deBell at the news conference was interim Superintendent Susan Enfield.  She promised to promote better oversight at the district.

"We at the school district are accountable to the public, and we take that very seriously," she said.

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