EXCLUSIVE: Silas Potter Jr. denies being the mastermind behind the Seattle Public Schools contracting scandal, which has triggered a criminal investigation.
TAMPA, Fla. — The man at the center of the Seattle Public Schools scandal — Silas W. Potter Jr. — says he’s not to blame and he’s being wrongly accused.
The culpability lies with others who dictated how he should spend the money in the district’s small-business contracting center, he told The Seattle Times in his only interview to date.
“I’ve been thrown under the bus,” Potter said in Tampa, Fla., where he’s lived in a modest apartment since October.
Potter managed the district’s small-business contracting program, where he oversaw the spending of $1.8 million in questionable contracts, according to a state audit and a district report.
The program, which grew to about a $1 million annual budget, was supposed to train small and minority-owned businesses in how to get district construction contracts.
But Potter approved contracts to favored businesses and consultants who charged the district inflated prices for work of little or no public value, according to the reports.
Potter denied being the mastermind behind the misappropriation of school-district funds, which has triggered a criminal investigation, the state audit and the firing of the superintendent.
“It’s a lot bigger than Silas Potter,” he said. “They’re trying to minimize their exposure of what they’ve done and maximize what Silas has done.”
Potter said the finger should be pointed at two people above him who demanded that he give school contracts, without bidding, to African-American businesses.
Potter said his supervisor at the time, Fred Stephens, facilities director, controlled and approved how the money was spent. And one of the school district’s attorneys, Ron English, reviewed the contracts and discussed business deals, Potter said.
Potter’s “allegations are not true,” English said in a statement Wednesday. “I had no involvement or knowledge of his contracts. I prepare the standard contract forms used by the district, but not the actual consulting contracts. I do not review invoices.”
Stephens disputed Potter’s claims in an e-mail Wednesday. “His newest claims are nothing more than another reckless attempt to deceive and shift blame,” wrote Stephens, now a top deputy to former Gov. Gary Locke at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
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