Thursday, October 25, 2012
Port of Oakland strip club scandal expands on further investigation
Further investigation of the Port of Oakland misuse-of-public-funds scandal has raised questions about a possible cover-up of the $4,500 Houston strip club bill incurred during a 2008 maritime finance conference by the port's Maritime Director James Kwon.
The name of port Executive Director Omar Benjamin was handwritten on the expense report that Kwon submitted for the 2008 party at the strip club, according to information obtained by Chronicle reporters.
Benjamin's name was redacted from copies of the receipts that were released to reporters and others, in answer to public-information requests.
Benjamin said he doesn't remember being at the club, according to an unnamed Chronicle source. Kwon reportedly said Benjamin was there and told Kwon to pick up the tab. The Port Commission suspended Benjamin and Kwon with pay while it continues to investigate. Benjamin was paid $257,508 in 2011. Kwon's pay was $214,248.
Kwon's attorney said his client "looks forward to the opportunity to set the record straight and resume his duties."
Benjamin said, "I am cooperating with the port inquiry and will do whatever I can to resolve this matter constructively and in the interests of the Port of Oakland."
Port spokesman Isaac Kos-Read said the port has "a standard protocol of redacting the names of all persons that appeared on the reports," except for the person named in a public-records request.
Written on the strip-club receipt was a list of executives from BNSF Railway, as being in attendance, but Lena Kent, public affairs director for BNSF, says her company's travel records and interviews with senior staffers has turned up no evidence its executives were at the party.
According to the agenda of the North American Port and Intermodal Finance and Investment summit, it does seem that Benjamin was a panelist in Houston at the maritime finance conference on Oct. 21, 2008, the day of the party.
For more of the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune stories: sfgate.com and insidebayarea
Today's Cargo News Archives