UPDATE: The mayor’s office told CBS 6 that Wayne Lassiter has been named the interim director of the city’s finance department. Lassiter, who is also comptroller for the Department of Public Utilities, will replace Dominic Ochei, who as we first told you yesterday, lost his job after just about a month on the job.
RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — A handshake on Tuesday was our first introduction to Dominic Ochei, a man who just last month was hired to be Richmond’s new finance director.
The Finance Department had gone nearly two years without a permanent director, and in 2012 was the subject of a critical audit that blasted it for unstable leadership and sending out thousands of incorrect tax bills.
The city didn’t immediately release Ochei’s background information at the time of his hiring, so CBS 6 dug into his past.
CBS 6 News Reporter Catie Beck asked Ochei about allegations made against him in South Africa, concerning fraud charges. When CBS 6 asked him about documents we found, he responded, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
In 2009, a formal complaint was sent to the South African police department accusing Ochei and two others of financial fraud for just over $1 million (13 million Rand).
South Africa was just one stop on Ochei’s cross-continental course of employment over the past decade. His LinkedIn work history also shows brief stops in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Baghdad.
We also asked Ochei about a personal bankruptcy filing in 1992. After showing him the actual court filing, he referred us elsewhere.
“Why don’t you go talk to the people that did my background research?” he said. “Go look at the background check they did, they did an extensive background check and you will find the correct records.”
We asked about Ochei’s employment stop before Richmond, a company that he owns, according to Georgia state records. But we couldn’t find any website for the company and the listed address is a residential home in Marietta, Georgia.
We also asked Ochei about his connections to Richmond Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall. Records show their time of employment overlapped when they both worked for the City of Atlanta.
On Tuesday, after our encounter with Ochei, we handed our findings over to the man who ultimately hired him, Byron Marshall. Two days later, on Thursday, he sat down for an interview and told us the city had taken action.
Marshall said that Ochei was no longer employed by the city. He explained that some relevant information was not found during the background check and hadn’t been offered by Ochei during the interview process.
Marshall said our findings prompted an immediate review.
“As a result of going through that review we determined that it was necessary to separate,” said Marshall.
“Was this a resignation?” CBS 6 asked.
“He’s no longer with the city,” Marshall said.
“So it was a forced resignation?” CBS 6 asked.
“He’s no longer with the city,” Marshall reiterated.
“Should a background check have caught that information?” CBS 6 asked.
“You know, perhaps…so,” Marshall said.
Marshall also said Ochei’s past bankruptcy filing was unknown at the time of his hiring. However, Marshall admitted the background check did pull up the fraud allegations in South Africa. Marshall said it was explained as a lawsuit with little merit and didn’t raise any red flags.
He also said Ochei’s Marietta business was a consulting and tax service operation run intermittently out of his home.
“We did work together,” Marshall said, and acknowledged that they both held financial posts at the same time in Atlanta. Ochei makes the third high-level employee hired by Marshall to leave City Hall amid controversy in the last year.
“All three of these people were people from your past, is there a pattern here of something the city should be concerned about?” CBS 6 asked.
“I don’t think it’s unusual to hire people that you’re familiar with if you’re trying to get a job done,” Marshall said.
Marshall said the majority of his 15 hires in Richmond have been successful. Even still, he said the vetting process for city job applicants needs repair, and it’s already underway.
“I’d like to find out why we didn’t pick up on this if someone else was able to,” Marshall said.
On Thursday evening, Ochei contacted CBS 6 and came to our station for an interview. He explained his qualifications and the reasons why he believes he should have been able to keep his job.
Ochei said the city should have defended questions about his background and contends he provided them the proof to do it.
He claims the fraud allegations that were brought to South African police in 2009 came from an active citizen group, the Sol Plaatje Ratepayers Association. Ochei claims that he had no way of doing the fraudulent activity they alleged because he was only a financial adviser to the company cited in the report, not an employee. He said that for that reason, he was not capable of completing monetary transactions.
“I was not in the capacity to have done the things that were indicated in the report. I was an advisor, I wasn’t an employee–so it was incorrect,” said Ochei.
Ochei also contended his Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing was too far in his past to be relevant in any current hiring decision. He said if he had thought it was important he would have brought it up to those completing his review.
“The fact that it never came up as something I thought was an issue to discuss, like I said, it`s over 20-something years old, and if I had thought that would be … and credit reports as far back as ‘86 don`t have it in there,” said Ochei.
Ochei is not currently charged and has never been convicted of any fraudulent activity. The city confirmed he was being paid $141,000 a year and will be given $3,000 in paid vacation time as part of his severance.