Like most Democratic-machine cities, Philadelphia has endured its fair share of corruption emanating from city hall. But this latest scandal is truly unprecedented - it's almost like a prestige TV plot come to life.
Philadelphia City Treasurer Christian Dunbar is facing federal charges - and, if convicted, up to 45 years and $1.5 million fine - for allegedly embezzling thousands of dollars from bank customers and also committing to a "sham" marriage to gain American citizenship.
The charges were unveiled by Attorney William McSwain on Friday. The prosecutor said Dunbar was arrested by FBI agents on Friday.morning. A local TV station pointed out that the charges facing Dunbar are unrelated to his work as treasurer.
Philly Mayor Jim Kenney says Dunbar, who is originally from Liberia, and reportedly a descendant of American abolitionist Harriet Tubman, has been fired as city treasurer, and the inspector general will begin a "thorough review" of Dunbar's office.
"The criminal complaint announced today does not involve Christian Dunbar’s work with the City of Philadelphia. But in light of the allegations, his employment has been terminated effective immediately. At the same time, 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. This review can help resolve any concerns about the Office’s conduct and transactions during this period," Kenney said in a statement.
According to the criminal complaint, Dunbar is facing charges of embezzlement by a bank employee, conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, and fraudulent procurement of citizenship. He allegedly stole a total of $15,000 from two customers at the Wells Fargo Bank in Newtown Square where he worked as a financial adviser, weeks before he was appointed as the city’s deputy treasurer in 2016.
But the scheme to obtain citizenship through fraudulent marriage was perpetrated by Dunbar and three others - his current wife, and two friends they allegedly met at Temple University.
Dunbar's wife, identified in the criminal complaint only as "FND", along with the two others - identified only as "Person #1" and "Person #2" - also deliberately participated in the scheme to defraud the US via entering into sham marriages, but the complaint didn't detail any charges relating to them.
The two sham marriages - one between Dunbar and one of the co-conspirators, and the other between Dunbar's now-wife, and one of the other conspirators - occurred within days of each other in December 2006 and were performed by the same officiant, a former Temple University professor. But since that time, the only "legitimate" marriage Dunbar and his wife have participated in has been their own, which was cemented in Senegal back in 2013.
"The alleged conduct that is outlined in this case reveals a pattern of dishonesty, poor judgment and criminal behavior that spans many years," McSwain said Friday .
Over the last four years as treasurer, Dunbar has been responsible for managing the city’s debt obligations, bank accounts, its operations and capital accounts and petty cash amounts related to various departments.
Dunbar’s maternal grandfather, William VS Tubman, served as president of Liberia for 27 years and is widely regarded as "the father of modern Liberia".
Read the press release below:
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that Christian Dunbar, 40, of Philadelphia, PA, the current Philadelphia City Treasurer, was arrested this morning and charged by Criminal Complaint with embezzlement by a bank employee, conspiracy to commit marriage fraud, and fraudulent procurement of citizenship. U.S. Attorney McSwain detailed the charges at a press conference this afternoon in front of the James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse in Philadelphia.
As the Philadelphia City Treasurer, Dunbar’s responsibilities include: (1) managing the City’s debt obligations, which includes overseeing the issuance of the City’s municipal bonds; (2) managing the City’s bank accounts, including its operating account, capital account, and petty cash accounts in various departments; (3) paying the City’s bills, including making payments to vendors, cutting payroll checks, and making payments to pension plans; and (4) managing the City’s cash reserves.
According to the Criminal Complaint, Dunbar allegedly participated in two schemes – (1) bank embezzlement and (2) marriage fraud in order to become a U.S. citizen.
The details of the alleged bank embezzlement scheme are as follows: Just weeks before his appointment to serve as the City’s Deputy Treasurer, Dunbar, while employed at Wells Fargo Bank in Newtown Square, stole $15,000 from two different bank customers. The Complaint alleges that on two separate occasions, once in December 2015 and again in January 2016, Victim #1 met with the defendant to transfer $5,000 between Victim #1’s Wells Fargo bank accounts. During both meetings, Dunbar allegedly directed Victim #1 to sign several documents, including a blank withdrawal slip. He later allegedly used the blank slips to withdraw cash from Victim #1’s account and deposit those funds into his own personal bank account.
The defendant allegedly used the same trick with Victim #2. In December 2015, Dunbar assisted Victim #2 in the same Wells Fargo branch and directed Victim #2 to sign several documents, including a blank withdrawal slip. As alleged in the Criminal Complaint, he later used the blank withdrawal slip to withdraw money from Victim #2’s account. Soon thereafter, Dunbar allegedly made significant cash deposits into his personal bank account.
Dunbar also allegedly participated in a conspiracy to enter into a sham marriage in order to secure immigration benefits, and ultimately U.S. citizenship, for himself and his family. The details of that alleged fraud are as follows: The Criminal Complaint alleges that the defendant and his current wife, identified in the Complaint by the initials “F.N.D.,” both entered into fraudulent marriages, Dunbar with Person #1 and his wife with Person #2. Prior to these sham marriages, Persons #1 and #2 were U.S. citizens, but Dunbar and F.N.D. were not – having been born in Liberia and Senegal, respectively. By marrying U.S. citizens, Dunbar and F.N.D. were able to gain their own U.S. citizenship.
These four individuals – Christian Dunbar, F.N.D., and Persons #1 and #2 – attended Temple University together and allegedly coordinated this sham marriage plan. Both of these sham marriages occurred within days of each other in December 2006 and were performed by the same officiant — a former Temple University professor. But since the time they attended Temple University together, Dunbar and F.N.D. were the only legitimate couple, marrying each other in Senegal in June 2013 (while Dunbar was still legally married to Person #1).
On their child’s 2014 birth records, Dunbar is listed as the father, F.N.D. is listed as the mother, and they are listed as married to each other.
But in February 2012, relying on his sham marriage to Person #1, the defendant allegedly applied to become a permanent resident of the United States (which he certified as true under the penalty of perjury), was granted that status in October 2012, and then submitted additional paperwork to become a naturalized citizen in late 2015 and early 2016.
As detailed in the Complaint, in paperwork he submitted in 2015 and in subsequent interviews, he continued to make fraudulent claims about his marital status, which was the basis for his becoming a naturalized citizen in January 2016. Two months later, he filed paperwork to divorce Person #1.
"The alleged conduct in this case shows a pattern of deception, dishonesty and criminality that no individual should ever engage in – but is especially alarming and intolerable for a high ranking City official," said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “City officials whose job is to handle money should not be thieves. And they should not have a track record of engaging in elaborate immigration fraud against the public that they are supposed to serve. My Office will continue to hold public officials to the high standard of conduct that residents of this City deserve. And when we find that a public official’s behavior falls short, we will hold them accountable."
"The accusations against Christian Dunbar run quite the criminal gamut, from stealing his own bank customers’ money to violating the immigration laws that help protect our national security,” said Michael J. Driscoll, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division.
"In his role as City Treasurer, Dunbar holds a position of public trust, making these charges lodged against him today extremely disturbing. The FBI is working every day to battle public corruption and the corrosive damage it does to people’s faith in government. We must hold public officials to high ethical standards — and we will hold them to obeying federal law."
If convicted, Dunbar faces a maximum possible sentence of 45 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $1.5 million.
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