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He broke a heart, maybe the law

A man is charged with bigamy after a woman says he married her in Senegal in 2000.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published February 22, 2007


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TAMPA - In another place and time, in another language, he called her "the princess."

Latif Diop and Selemba Diene were high school sweethearts, best friends.

When Diop left their native Senegal for college abroad, he told Diene he would return and marry her.

Decades later, the two are married. Unfortunately, she isn't his only wife, authorities say.

On Wednesday morning, Hillsborough Sheriff's deputies arrested Diop, 45, at his Carrollwood condominium, accusing him of bigamy.

Under state law, a person can only be married to one spouse at a time. Violating that law is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Diop was released on bail.

On Sept. 4, Diop filed for a marriage license to wed Ndiaye Nguira, 32, county records show. The two have a 3-week-old boy and share a condo off Dale Mabry Highway.

But Diene said she married Diop in Senegal in January 2000 and the pair never divorced.

"He ruined my life," said Diene, who declined to give her age. "I can't have children. We are married. I don't know, what I always thought was I married my best friend."

Diop did not return a message left with Nguira, who said Diene's marriage is not valid in the United States.

"There's nothing to say because they got married in Africa," Nguira said Wednesday as she held her young son against her shoulder.

But immigration attorney Neil Lewis, who is not involved in the case, said if it's a legal marriage in Senegal, it's legal here.

Diop and Diene met in the mid 1980s in Dakar, Senegal's capital.

Circumstances took them in different directions. She remained in Senegal to study law but quit to become a teacher. He went first to England for college, then moved to Los Angeles to study, she said.

Before he left, she gave him a ring engraved with an "M." It stood for "mine."

Diop sent her letters professing his love for her, she said. His friends who stayed in Senegal assured her that Diop would return to marry her.

People asked her why a successful educator would not be married, would not at least have boyfriends.

She said she told them she was waiting for her best friend.

Then, she got news he had married a woman from California, and they had a baby.

Still, she waited.

In 1999, she said, Diop returned to Senegal. He told Diene that he divorced his American bride. He asked Diene to marry him.

"He said, 'I just ask you to forgive me - we're going to start our lives together,' " she recalled. "He said, 'I'm glad no one married you.' "

Their families approved of the marriage, and they got a marriage license from city hall, she said.

In Senegal, a marriage license can specify monogamy or polygamy, she said. Theirs said "monogamous."

The wedding was an elaborate affair with colorful dresses and dozens of relatives. Her groom did not attend, she said, so his brother stood in his place.

Diop came to Senegal that July for the honeymoon. Afterward, the family ate a traditional meal of meat, peanut butter and rice to celebrate the virginal bride.

Tears crept down her cheeks Wednesday as she thumbed through photos of the celebrations. A video commemorating their honeymoon shows the couple sitting in bed, eating heaping plates of food.

Diene moved to be with her husband in Tampa in 2001, where she said she faced physical and mental abuse before Diop kicked her out.

She has no car and barely enough money for a modest apartment off Fletcher Avenue. She found work at JCPenney, then Dillard's. She is also a substitute teacher. She had health problems but was dropped from her husband's insurance, she said.

When she heard he had married another Senegalese woman, Diene, fed up, called deputies.

Now, she waits again.

News researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.

 

[Last modified February 22, 2007, 06:23:59]


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