Daniel Christensen, former chairman of the South Street Headhouse District, pleaded guilty Wednesday to wire fraud for embezzling money meant to beautify and promote the entertainment corridor.
Christensen had used the funds - amounting to $1.4 million - to cover bills at two restaurants he owned, Copabanana and Redwood, federal prosecutors charged.
In a calm, quiet voice, the bespectacled Christensen told U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney in federal court Wednesday morning: "I plead guilty to wire fraud."
When Kearney asked if the details of the government's case against him were correct, Christensen answered simply, "Yes."
Christensen, who is represented by attorney Irina Ehrlich, is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 12. He could face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Christensen, 52, has been released on his own recognizance. Kearney stated in court that Christensen had no prior criminal history.
According to federal filings, Christensen perpetrated a scheme between November 2014 and June 2015 in which he would remove funds meant for the district and place them into his own accounts. He'd repay them to cover his alleged crimes, documents show.
"He was keeping his accounts [for his restaurants] afloat," federal prosecutor Jennifer Chun Barry said in court Wednesday.
The largest amount illegally withdrawn at one time was $430,000, government documents show.
On Wednesday, Christensen pleaded guilty to wiring $18,489 of district funds into his own account on Dec. 9, 2014.
He added in court that he has repaid all of the money he took.
Christensen resigned as the district's board chairman last year after an internal audit revealed the withdrawals.
The South Street Headhouse District is one of a number of "special service districts" in the city, such as the Center City District, created under state law as nongovernmental entities to provide services including sidewalk and street cleaning, business promotion, and festival planning in a limited geographic area.
The Headhouse District was created in 1993 to promote South Street's entertainment strip from Front to 11th Streets, as well as Headhouse Square and Fabric Row.
With an annual operating budget of $700,000, it is funded by annual assessments on about 1,000 properties within its boundaries.