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November 8, 2013 at 3:59 PM

Man convicted of 36 charges stemming from Seattle schools scandal

A King County jury today found David A. Johnson guilty of three dozen criminal charges related to the theft of funds from a Seattle Public School District program designed to assist minority-owned businesses in receiving school-district contracts.

Johnson was convicted of 30 counts of first-degree theft and six counts of second-degree theft, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. He will face a sentence range of 43 to 57 months in prison when he’s sentenced Jan. 10.

Co-defendant Silas Potter, who pleaded guilty in April to 36 counts of theft, will also face a sentence of 43 to 57 months when he is sentenced Nov. 15. Potter testified against Johnson during his trial, which started last month in King County Superior Court.

As the head of the school district’s Regional Small Business Development Program from 2006 to 2010, Potter oversaw efforts to teach minority and women-owned businesses how to better compete for public contracts. In his plea agreement, Potter admitted he approved dozens of school-district checks paying for services from a Tacoma nonprofit called Grace of Mercy, while “knowing no work had been completed.”

In return, Potter said he received some of that money back from Johnson, who ran the nonprofit, which billed the district for classes it was supposedly teaching to small-business owners.

It all came crashing down in 2011 after a state audit found Potter had abused his authority and potentially squandered millions of dollars in public money.

Auditors discovered Potter’s program had spent $280,000 for work that was not done or didn’t benefit the district — including the payments to Grace of Mercy — and $1.5 million more for services that were poorly documented or of questionable value.

A follow-up audit last year turned up $1.3 million more in suspicious payments, finding Potter had approved inflated invoices to vendors charging double or even 10 times the usual rate for services.

The audits and a related school-district report portrayed an office that Potter had turned into a personal fiefdom, doling out public contracts to favored vendors while spending time on school computers looking at computer dating and gambling sites. His conduct was abetted, the reports found, by superiors who failed to rein him in despite warnings.

The fallout led the Seattle School Board to fire then-Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson.

A third defendant in the case, Lorrie Kay Sorensen, pleaded guilty last year to one count of first-degree theft.

 

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: fraud, King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Seattle Public Schools

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