Former Philadelphia Treasurer Christian Dunbar admitted before a federal judge Thursday that he fraudulently obtained U.S. citizenship through lying about his marriage and failed to file personal income taxes while working in the office that oversees the city’s fiscal stability.
Dunbar, 42, pleaded guilty to charges including immigration and tax fraud in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe. He faces up to 10 years in prison on the most serious of those counts at a sentencing hearing set for January.
During the proceedings, Dunbar, a Liberian immigrant, acknowledged that he and his wife, Fatoumata Ndiaye-Dunbar, had secretly wed in a ceremony in Senegal in 2013 while he was legally married to another woman — a U.S. citizen he had met as a student at Temple University and had married seven years before.
The first spouse, who has not been named in court filings, sponsored Dunbar for a green card in 2009. They divorced shortly after he obtained citizenship in 2017.
Dunbar also agreed Thursday to pay $33,232 in back taxes and restitution to the IRS for failing to file personal income tax forms in 2015, 2016, and 2019 — the two years of which he was working in the city treasurer’s office.
His decision to plead guilty came days before he was scheduled to face trial on those charges as well as additional accusations that he had embezzled $15,000 from two clients during a previous job as a financial adviser for Wells Fargo and later claimed tax deductions for bogus business losses related to a partnership in a medical marijuana firm he was involved in on the side.
Prosecutors agreed to drop those counts in exchange for Dunbar’s guilty plea to the immigration and tax fraud charges.
“Christian Dunbar’s conduct in this case demonstrates a shocking level of misconduct for anyone, let alone a senior official with the City of Philadelphia whose job it was to oversee the city’s fiscal stability,” U.S. Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero said in a statement.
Dunbar and his attorney, Brian J. McMonagle, declined to discuss the decision to plead guilty.
Mayor Jim Kenney, whose administration hired Dunbar as a deputy treasurer in 2016 and elevated him to the top role in that office in 2019, also declined to comment on the case. The mayor had asked the city’s inspector general to investigate Dunbar’s tenure in office after he was arrested in 2020. That probe, which was completed last year, yielded “no evidence of fraud or misappropriation with respect to his official duties [or] city funds,” said Kenney spokesperson Kevin Lessard.
» READ MORE: From 2020: Philly Treasurer Christian Dunbar fired after he is charged with faking marriage for citizenship, stealing money in prior job
The city treasurer oversees Philadelphia’s $4 billion investment portfolio as well as its bank accounts, debt obligations and municipal bonds.
Dunbar’s arrest triggered a swift downfall for a man who had escaped political turmoil and civil war in Liberia only to be named one of Philadelphia’s top financial officers and chairman of the board of a federally backed advisory firm aimed at increasing U.S. investment in Africa.
Kenney fired him the same day he was charged, saying at the time he was unaware of the investigation into the Wells Fargo embezzlement allegations when his administration first offered Dunbar a post in city government.
Meanwhile, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart was already pursuing a separate investigation of the Treasurer’s Office at the time of Dunbar’s arrest. Her auditors have since concluded that the city Finance Office, at Dunbar’s request, granted several government departments approval to make emergency purchases without spending limits during the coronavirus pandemic — an oversight that led to overspending and questionable expenditures like takeout food for city staff.
Dunbar has described himself as a descendant of Harriet Tubman and former Liberian President William V.S. Tubman. He shined at Temple, where he was captain of the football team and vice president of the dance team before graduating in 2004.
It was there he met Ndiaye, a Senegalese national, who was also enrolled at the university.
“I knew I’d ask [her] to marry me within a day of meeting her,” he said in a 2020 profile highlighting his work in Africa.
And yet, despite that apparent certainty, Dunbar married another Temple classmate — one with U.S. citizenship — months after his graduation. Within days, Ndiaye wed one of Dunbar’s football teammates, allowing her to eventually apply for a green card as well. The same former Temple professor served as officiant for both weddings, according to the complaint filed in the case.
“The close timing of [both] marriage ceremonies, the fact that they were students at Temple University at the same time and the use of the same official to solemnize the marriage, suggests there was coordination among the parties,” prosecutors said in their initial complaint.
Though they were married to others, the Dunbars acted for years as man and wife, living at the same address on Sansom Street, signing their first child’s birth certificate as a married couple, and listing each other as spouses on employment paperwork at their jobs, investigators said.
» READ MORE: From 2021: Philly’s indicted former treasurer is facing new charges tied to his role in a medical marijuana start-up
Meanwhile, Dunbar’s first wife would later tell agents that she had no idea he was living with another woman when he would disappear days at a time during their marriage and that she assumed he was “spending time with the West African community in West Philadelphia, a part of his life in which she was not included,” according to court filings.
The woman said that while she had been romantically involved with Dunbar, she was never given an engagement or wedding ring and she never told her family or friends about their marriage. She assumed, according to Dunbar’s plea agreement, that he’d proposed to her to advance his claim to U.S. citizenship.
Neither Ndiaye-Dunbar nor Dunbar’s first wife was charged in the case.
Dunbar’s guilty plea makes him the second city treasurer convicted of a federal felony in recent years. Corey Kemp, who held the post under former Mayor John F. Street, went to prison for accepting bribes from a lawyer seeking business with the city.
Staff writer Anna Orso contributed to this article.