Second Port of Oakland Exec Suspended
By Art Garcia
The Port of Oakland’s newly installed Acting Executive Director Deborah Ale Flint ordered Maritime Director James Kwon to return immediately from a business trip to China in the wake of charges he spent $4,500 in public money entertaining shipping executives in a Houston strip club. Kwon was suspended and put on paid administrative leave one day after port commissioners placed his boss, Executive Director Omar Benjamin, on immediate paid administrative leave as well.
“We are still trying to get a handle on what exactly happened and how it happened,” said Port Commission President Gilda Gonzalez. “That’s why we have engaged outside counsel to help make a full investigation.”
Port financial records also indicated that Kwon had expensed $476 in haircuts, $1,000 in wine and bills from massage parlors, golf outings and a $350 pair of golf shoes. The probe of possibly improper spending has been expanded to include reimbursements from an Oakland karaoke bar. “We were told there could be many more questionable expenses than we initially knew of,” Gonzalez said. “Hopefully, it won’t be as bad as some think.”
Despite clear policies that should have alerted port officials, four years went by before reimbursement claims submitted by Kwon were flagged. Now the port is investigating whether Benjamin was involved with Kwon in running up the expense tab at the Houston club. Benjamin has not confirmed or denied his presence in Houston on October 21, 2008, the date of Kwon’s alleged expenses. Port officials won’t comment on whether he or any other port staff were with Kwon at the club.
In other Port of Oakland news, a crane mechanic doing maintenance work on a trolley cable was killed in an industrial accident after he was caught in a piece of crane equipment about 250 feet up and suffered “crushing injuries.” The mechanic was identified by the Alameda County Coroner’s Office as 41-year-old Mark Arnett of Oakland. The accident occurred at Berth 37, part of the Ben E. Nutter Terminal operated by Evergreen Marine Corporation of Taiwan. The terminal was shut after the accident and workers sent home while state and local agencies investigated the incident.
The port, which handled about $41 billion of cargo in 2011, is the fifth-busiest in the U.S. – MarEx
This is the second article in an ongoing series.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.