Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oakland Port Director Steps Down

Port of Oakland Executive Director Omar Benjamin, who had been under investigation for his role in the spending of thousands of dollars in public money at a Texas strip club, has stepped down.

Benjamin, who had served as executive director since 2007, notified the port’s Board of Port Commissioners over Veteran’s Day weekend that he’s retiring from his position effective immediately.

With his retirement, Acting Executive Director Deborah Ale Flint will continue, for now, to direct the port’s key business plans and growth initiatives while also overseeing the port’s day-to-day operations, according to the commission.

Benjamin had been on paid leave since Oct. 18 as part of an investigation into the spending of $4,500 in public money during the entertaining of shipping executives at strip club in Houston, Texas called Treasures during a 2008 business conference.

Port expense records show that Benjamin was part of the group that ran up the tab. The expense report, which was passed off as a normal business meeting, was submitted in October 2008 by the port’s maritime director, James Kwon. Kwon was placed on paid administrative leave the day after Benjamin last month by Ale Flint and currently remains on leave.

The port hired the firm of Arnold & Porter LLP last month to audit port records for other expenditures, including other nightclub visits in Asia and Oakland that were billed by employees to the port. The investigation is still ongoing, according to the port.

Additional developments regarding policies and oversight are scheduled to be discussed during the port board’s next regular business meeting, scheduled for Thurs., Nov. 15.