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Queens Chronicle

Agreement is near on Chang’s estate

Disgraced St. John’s University dean took her life over embezzling

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Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:20 am, Thu Feb 27, 2014.

The estate of the late Cecilia Chang is still up for grabs, with federal authorities working on a settlement that could soon give them up to $1.2 million.

Chang, 59, committed suicide in her Jamaica Estates home on Nov. 8, 2012, a day after implicating herself in court for recruiting foreign students and making them do chores around her house and embezzling more than $1 million from St. John’s University, where she worked as dean of the Asian Studies Center and vice president of international relations.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn last year by federal prosecutors to seize her property and assets. Chang’s son Steven, who lives in Hawaii, had been fighting to keep the house at 82-34 Tryon Place.

The lawsuit also seeks $434,616 from one of Chang’s bank accounts.

Prosecutors have argued in the lawsuit that because the forced labor of foreign students allegedly took place in Chang’s home, the property can be condemned and forfeited to the United States.

Stephen Mahler, Steven Chang’s attorney, did not return calls for this story, but according to Zugiel Soto, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn court, a settlement is in the works. “There is not complete agreement yet, but hopefully there will be by the end of the month,” Soto said.

It is expected the government will get about 60 percent of the sale price of the upscale home.

Cecilia Chang was fired by St. John’s in 2010 and was arrested three months later. A day after testifying at her trial against herself, she attempted to commit suicide by slashing her wrists and then turning on the oven. She was found hanged with a stereo cord tied to an attic ladder the same day.

During the trial, Chang basically admitted that she used her position to recruit foreign students and made them do chores around her house, including washing her underwear and cooking, under the threat of expulsion.

Regarding the money she stole, she claimed personal financial losses during the fundraising process she conducted primarily overseas. She raised a reported $20 million for the school.

St. John’s then-president, the Rev. Donald Harrington, resigned last year after it was learned that Chang had bought him 40 custom-made suits and expensive watches.

Harrington, 67, who served as president for 24 years, had acknowledged that he accepted the pricey gifts from Chang. She also implicated the previous St. John’s president, the Rev. Joseph Cahill, regarding lavish gambling trips to Atlantic City.

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