Port of Oakland officials suspended their executive director amid an investigation into a $4,500 strip club expense racked up by the agency's head of maritime operations.
The port announced late Thursday following a meeting that commissioners voted unanimously to immediately place executive director Omar Benjamin on "administrative leave" with pay. He was replaced by aviation director Deborah Ale Flint.
KTVU exposed questionable spending by the port's maritime director James Kwon for paying $4,500 at a strip club and other charges for golf shoes, haircuts and trips to a massage parlor.
The Port's board president Gilda Gonzalez said the acting director Flint is expected to address Kwon's job status.
The outside investigation by Arnold and Porter is expected to take several weeks, she added.
Gonzales said she and others were taken aback and shocked at that expenditure. “But again we have an investigation going on and I think we need to get to the bottom of what transpired in that instance,” she said.
Gonzalez admitted that Kwon’s still serving as Maritime Director.
The Port's board room was packed Thursday night and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 workers were livid and addressed the port commissioners on the issue.
Workers held signs showing they were upset about questionable executive spending, while they said the port has insisted on contract concessions.
The workers shut down the meeting and shouted as the commissioners left the room.
“We've asked them to clarify their finances and they just wring their hands,” said Courtney Elder, of SEIU Local 1021.
Earl Hamlin, Port of Oakland commissioner, said he was disappointed when he first heard about the expenditures
“It gives the port a black eye and that doesn't feel good,” Hamlin added.
Kwon has been on a business trip to China and has not commented on the burgeoning scandal first reported Monday by KTVU.
Watchdogs are questioning an exclusive agreement between the City of Oakland and a non-profit group, tapped to lead a multi-million dollar project to redevelop the area around the Coliseum BART station.