Mayor Jim Kenney fired city Treasurer Christian Dunbar on Friday, minutes after federal authorities revealed he had been charged with fraudulently obtaining U.S. citizenship through a sham marriage and embezzling money from a prior job.
FBI agents arrested Dunbar, 40, earlier in the morning at the West Philadelphia home he shares with his wife, Fatoumata Ndiaye-Dunbar.
Federal prosecutors said that the couple secretly wed in a ceremony in Senegal in 2013, while Dunbar 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 earlier spouse, who was not named, sponsored Dunbar, a Liberian immigrant, for a green card in 2009. They divorced shortly after he obtained citizenship in 2017.
Despite the seriousness of those allegations, U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain said Friday that Dunbar’s conduct in an earlier job as a financial adviser for Wells Fargo — where he had been accused of stealing $15,000 from two of his clients in 2016 — raised questions about his fitness to serve as city treasurer, a post Kenney appointed him to last year.
“It goes without saying that the duties [of Dunbar’s public role] require the treasurer to be a trustworthy public servant — someone who is honest beyond reproach,” McSwain said. “Unfortunately, the alleged conduct in this case reveals a pattern of dishonor, poor judgment and criminal behavior that spans many years.”
McSwain laid out those accusations at a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, just blocks away from Dunbar’s City Hall office, from which he oversaw the city’s $4 billion investment portfolio and managed city bank accounts, debt obligations, and the issuance of municipal bonds.
A spokesperson for the mayor said the city was not aware of the investigation at Wells Fargo when it offered Dunbar a job as a deputy treasurer in 2016. When confronted by the bank that year, Dunbar denied stealing anything, though prosecutors said Wells Fargo investigators substantiated the claims.
Dunbar remained in custody Friday evening, pending his first hearing next week. It was not clear from court records whether he had retained an attorney.
News of his 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.
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 the captain of the football team and vice president of the dance team before graduating in 2004.
It was there he met Fatoumata 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 profile highlighting his work in Africa earlier this year.
And yet, despite that apparent certainty, Dunbar married another Temple classmate — one with U.S. citizenship — two years 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," the filing said.
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 respective jobs, investigators said.
McSwain would not explain Friday why Ndiaye-Dunbar and the two others who had fraudulently married her and her husband had not been charged.
“The investigation is ongoing, as all of our investigations are,” he said. Ndiaye-Dunbar did not respond to calls to her residence.
Dunbar’s arrest makes him the second city treasurer to face federal criminal charges 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.
But unlike in that case, Dunbar has not been accused of misconduct in his public role. And yet, two city offices have launched their own probes into his tenure as treasurer.
“I have asked Inspector General Alexander DeSantis to begin a thorough review of the City Treasurer’s Office during the time of Dunbar’s employment as both deputy treasurer and treasurer,” Kenney said in a statement Friday, hours after Dunbar’s arrest. “This review can help resolve any concerns about the office’s conduct and transactions during this period.”
Meanwhile, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart had previously initiated a separate review into “financial matters” unrelated to the federal investigation, said a source familiar with that investigation who was not authorized to publicly discuss it.
If he is convicted of the federal charges, Dunbar could face up to 30 years in prison on the most serious count he faces.
Staff writers Laura McCrystal and Chris Brennan contributed to this article.