Sunday, September 19, 2010


A top St. John's University official embezzled more than $1 million from the Queens, New York school, spending the stolen lucre on jaunts to casinos, lingerie shopping sprees at Victoria's Secret - and even submitting her son's law-school tuition as an expense, authorities charged yesterday. Cecilia Chang, 57, a university vice president for international relations and dean of the Institute for Asian Studies, wooed potential donors in the Far East to give money to the university, sometimes turning in expense chits for more than $50,000 a month, prosecutors said. But some of the expenses were charged to Chang's personal credit card from a Taiwanese bank, where she ran up myriad personal charges and passed them on to the university by submitting phony statements, according to the 205-count indictment. Chang, who worked at the Hillcrest campus for more than 20 years and had the power to bestow scholarships, even tried to grant her son Steven a free ride at the university's law school, but was forced to repay the money when officials overruled her, Queens DA Richard Brown said. Still, she charged the tuition to the Taiwanese credit card, and submitted false statements demanding reimbursement for travel and entertainment expenses to cover the more-than-$40,000 cost, Brown said. Chang was caught after a 2009 internal audit revealed discrepancies in her expense account, Brown said. The veep, who pulled in between $130,000 and $140,000 a year, was suspended in January and fired in June, a school spokesman said. When auditors acquired actual statements from the Taiwanese bank, they found personal charges at casinos, Macy's, Home Depot, supermarkets, pharmacies and fast-food joints, Assistant DA Gregory Pavlides said at Chang's arraignment in Queens Supreme Court yesterday. Among the alleged scams was her creation of the nonprofit Global Development Initiative Foundation, which she represented to be part of the university but was solely controlled by Chang. She allegedly misled a Saudi prince to give the foundation $250,000 for a multicultural program to promote understanding - indicating that it was part of the school - and then she tried to score another $500,000 from him. Chang was charged with grand larceny, forgery, criminal possession of a forged instrument, and falsifying business records. Pavlides said she was likely to face federal charges, as well. He called Chang a flight risk, noting her two passports, and the fact she'd placed her seven-bedroom home in Jamaica Estates, Queens, on the market for $2.9 million. Chang was ordered held on $1 million bail by Queens Supreme Court Justice James Griffin. Authorities say Cecilia Chang tried to pass off personal expenses as business-related by submitting phony credit card statements to St. John's University, allegedly embezzling more than $1 million. Prosecutors say she spent the money for:

* Trips to casinos
* Victoria's Secret shopping sprees
* Tuition for her son at St. John's Law School
* Home Depot and Macy's purchases
* Shopping at supermarkets, pharmacies and fast food restaurants

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