[CBS 6 took down the interview.]
Richmond’s new finance director Dominic Ochei had been on the job less than two months when CBS 6 reporter Catie Beck cornered him with a camera in an elevator at City Hall.
After the exchange that followed, City Spokeswoman Tammy Hawley says “it was agreed that it was best we part ways with Mr. Ochei.” Hawley cites "information was brought to [Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall's] attention that he was unaware of."
Ochei's last day was yesterday, she says.
In the priceless but painfully awkward interview embedded above, Ochei claimed to have no idea what Beck is talking about when she asks him about a document she describes as relating to fraud charges in South Africa. When she brings up his personal bankruptcy filings he tells her to talk to the people who did his background check.
Beck: “We were doing some research and we found some questionable allegations about fraud charges, do you know what I’m talking about?”
Ochei: “Um, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Beck: “You recognize this document here? It’s from the South African Police and it says you were held in contempt of court. Do you know what that’s about?”
[Ochei doesn’t respond.]
Beck: “Were you not held in contempt of court?”
Ochei: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
It goes on like that, with Beck producing his bankruptcy filings and Ochei refusing to engage. (Court records confirm: Ochei, 52, and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 1992.)
Ochei started working for the city on May 13. Previously he has worked for the city of Atlanta as a deputy chief financial officer. He’s also been employed internationally, according to his resume.
The position had been unfilled for 21 months when Ochei was hired.
Beck’s story runs tonight at 11 on CBS6. Here's a link to the tease they posted on their website this afternoon.
Update: CBS 6 ran the whole story, and what Beck found is a lot less impressive than she made it out to be in her elevator interview, which the station removed from its website.
Her story hangs entirely on the bankruptcy filing mentioned above and a random document that shows up if you Google Ochei. And reading the document, it turns out Ochei could honestly respond that he had no idea what Beck was talking about when she told him "it's from the South African Police and it shows you were held in contempt of court."
It's actually a letter written to South African police by a municipality's "Ratepayers Association" -- a civic group that could be a bunch of grumpy nutcases for all we know. And it only alleges that Ochei and other city employees were in contempt of court because the association disagreed with payments the city had authorized.
Beck didn't include comment from the association at the center of her story. I can tell you that when I attempted to contact the group last month they never got back to me. Their website hasn't been updated since 2011 and notes a "lack of interest."
Ochei told the Times-Dispatch he was an advisor to the municipality with no actual authority. He says he's asked to have his name removed from the document.
In his interview with Beck, Marshall says the city was aware of the whole South African thing. The city's bigger concern, he says, was that the 1992 bankruptcy filing wasn't disclosed.
Ochei told the T-D the filing is "no longer relevant to his life." But if it's something the city would still consider relevant then there are legitimate questions about why the background check they conducted didn't turn it up. Those kinds of court records are like the easiest thing in the world to find.
When I wrote the above post, Beck's story hadn't aired (only the interview as a tease) and the station hadn't yet reported Ochei had been let go ("tune in at 11 to see how the city responds). And based on what Beck said in her interview I assumed -- bad move -- that she'd actually followed up on the South African document and found what she told the guy she had in her hands. That she didn't makes the whole thing seem way less, um, good. But I still love Catie Beck for getting in the elevator with the guy.