The day federal investigators descended on Coen Potts’ Topeka apartment was his last as an area elementary school art teacher.

Initially, officials in Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437 fired Potts after drug paraphernalia was found in his gym bag. But what FBI agents would find acting on a tip as they searched his apartment was far more troubling, according to court documents.

In June, a federal grand jury indicted Potts on one count of receipt of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. He faces trial next month in U.S. District Court in Topeka.

Just days after he was indicted, superintendent Brenda Dietrich sought to calm concerns and inform parents.

“A thorough investigation has taken place, and we have been assured that none of the alleged materials or suspected activity had any connection to the school or students,” she wrote to parents and staff members in a letter the district gave to The Topeka Capital-Journal on Monday when asked about the case.

The district, Dietrich wrote, took the most aggressive action possible when allegations came to light but was restricted from sharing more information during the investigation.

“Mr. Potts had been removed from the classroom earlier when we learned that he was the focus of an ongoing investigation,” she wrote.

Potts was removed from teaching duties on Oct. 25, 2006 — the day his apartment in the 4100 block of S.W. Twilight Drive was searched — and fired less than a month later, according to past reports.

The case is to go to trial April 15. But before then, attorneys are wrangling over the legal footing of the search warrant, which led FBI agents to haul away Pott’s computer, hard drive and other electronic storage. Pott’s attorney is seeking to suppress evidence found in the search, according to court documents filed late last week.

Potts’ attorney, Christopher Joseph, has complained that the FBI based its search on an unreliable witness who told numerous lies and whom they did little to confirm the accuracy of her statements. U.S. attorneys counter that the FBI didn’t know about the untruthful statements and the statements weren’t significant enough to have changed the outcome.

The investigation began when a woman told an FBI agent she had met Potts through a telephone dating service, according to documents filed by U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine Kenney. The woman said Potts’ profile said he was in his mid-30s and liked younger girls, according to court documents. They began calling each other.

They agreed to meet in October 2005, at which point she said Potts showed her school photos of two female students, school photos of himself, pictures he said he had drawn and three pictures of child pornography he said he had downloaded from the Internet, according to court documents.

The woman told the FBI she cut off contact the next month when Potts shared a fantasy that they would get married and have children that he could “deflower.”

“The witness became extremely upset, but the defendant continued to talk in graphic detail about sexually abusing their children and that ‘no one would know,'” court documents allege.

The woman’s statements were full of lies, Potts’ attorney said. Joseph sums them up in a recent court filing, arguing that the two first met more than a year before what she told the FBI and continued communicating after she told the FBI they had stopped.

A basic investigation of numerous red flags, his attorney said, would have turned up that and other lies, including the type of service through which they met.

“Had the magistrate learned about the informants many lies, he would not have issued a search warrant that was based almost exclusively on the informant’s uncorroborated claims,” Joseph wrote.

One point that doesn’t appear to be in contention is a recorded conversation between the woman and Potts 17 days before the search warrant was granted.

Child pornography isn’t specifically mentioned, but prosecutors allege the two talked about it in a roundabout way. Potts was recorded saying he was trying to save money, so he wasn’t hitting many of “those sites” because it cost money to spend so much time online downloading files.

Then talking about women, Potts said, “I mean (inaudible) it’s just because I’ve been really by myself and really sort of unsuccessful with women virtually my whole life and even though I try, I either get played by women or they just completely just don’t look at me.”

If convicted, Potts faces a penalty of five to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the charge of receiving child pornography and a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the possession charge.

Barbara Hollingsworth can be reached at (785) 295-1285 or [email protected]

 

By Barbara Hollingsworth
The Capital-Journal

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