Staring down a potential 10-year hitch in federal prison for obtaining his citizenship through a sham marriage, Marco Senghor, the owner of the restaurant and dance club Bissap Baobab, was instead today handed one year’s probation and a $1,000 fine.
“I’m very happy with the verdict,” said a misty-eyed Senghor outside the courtroom at the U.S. District Courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Ave., surrounded by friends and family.
Senghor pleaded guilty on March 28 to making a false statement on an immigration-related document — a felony stemming from a marriage he entered solely to obtain his U.S. citizenship. That guilty plea was part of a deal that erased two more serious charges that would have immediately revoked Senghor’s U.S. citizenship upon conviction.
He was last year publicly arrested on Aug. 1 while walking down Mission Street. Amid his legal battle with the federal government, Senghor sold Bissap Baobab on 19th Street in the Mission. He kept open a neighboring business, Little Baobab, and currently operates Bissap Baobab’s Oakland location.
The dramatically reduced sentence was apparently due in part to Senghor’s longstanding reputation as an immigrant success story.
“Indeed, the defendant has earned a reputation as a generous employer and a community-oriented philanthropist, especially within San Francisco’s Mission District where two of the defendant’s restaurants are located,” the United States Attorney’s office wrote in its Aug. 15 sentencing recommendation.
The feds on Aug 15 pushed for one year of probation and a $5,000 fine. Senghor’s attorneys asked for one year of probation, a $1,000 fine and community service. Judge William H. Orrick III opted for the latter. He handed Senghor 100 hours of community service.
“Given your history, I don’t think I have to order [community service],” Orrick said, referring to Senghor’s background in the community. “But I’m going to anyway, just in case someone looks at this down the road.”
Some 27 friends, family members, and even celebrities wrote letters supporting Senghor, including folk singer Joan Baez and rapper Michael Franti.
“My basis for supporting Marco doesn’t come from the longevity of our relationship, rather from witnessing his compelling personality, dedication to his club, and the atmosphere of joy and safety his club offers all races,” Baez wrote in a letter to the judge.
Senghor, born to a Senegalese father and a French mother, was the youngest in a large and accomplished family. He came to the United States in 1989 at the age of 24, just after finishing his military service in France.
“It was a place where people were free to be entrepreneurs, with big cars, big burritos, where people had dreams,” Senghor told Mission Local in February, recalling his early days in the Mission.
In April 2000, in order to obtain his green card, he paid $7,000 to enter into a fraudulent marriage that lasted until August 2003, according to court records. Senghor “had never met the woman until he married her,” and “had no contact with the woman after the ceremony,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Casey Boome said at a March 28 hearing.
But observers saw the government’s response to the decades-old crime as heavy-handed. The feds initially charged him with two felonies that would have immediately stripped him of his citizenship upon conviction — while also attempting to seize some of his assets.
“They were charging him criminally,” Matthew Hoppak, an immigration attorney based in Kansas, told Mission Local in March. “They were seeking asset forfeiture, which is what they do against mobsters.”
Regardless, Senghor is now allowed to remain in the United States. At the conclusion of the hearing, Senghor faced some two dozen supporters in the audience, smiled and gave them a thumbs up.
“I’m very grateful for all the support I have received from friends and family this past year …” he had told the judge minutes earlier.