By Anna Gustafson
A Jamaica Estates woman who was employed by St. John’s University for more than three decades has been charged with stealing more than $1 million from the school and using the funds for trips to casinos, shopping at Victoria’s Secret and her son’s tuition, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said last week.
Cecilia Chang, 57, the former vice president for international relations and the dean of the Center of Asian Studies at St. John’s, allegedly submitted travel and entertainment charges to her former employer for as much as $50,000 a month that were purportedly related to her employment but which were allegedly used for her own personal life over a six-year period, Brown said. She also allegedly diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars in foundation donations intended for the school to herself, according to the DA.
“The defendant held a unique position within the university including, among other things, soliciting contributions for the school from potential donors in the Far East, and was highly respected by school officials for her ability to successfully secure large, sometimes million-dollar, contributions,” Brown said. “It is disheartening, indeed, to see an alleged betrayal of this magnitude, which inexcusably deprived the university of much-needed educational funds and could have a chilling effect on the school’s future fund-raising efforts.”
Chang, who was fired in June, was charged in a 205-count indictment Sept. 15 with three counts of grand larceny, 69 counts of forgery, 69 counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument and 64 counts of falsifying business records. The charges brought against Chang followed a 2009 internal audit by St. John’s.
“Our internal audit procedures led to an initial discovery of alleged fraud by Ms. Chang that was referred to the Queens district attorney,” the university said in a statement. “At the request of the university’s board of trustees and senior leadership, St. John’s is reviewing all current policies and procedures to identify any weaknesses and immediately address them.”
University officials said they were more than disappointed by the allegations.
“Ms. Chang was a trusted employee in the Asian Center of the university for more than 30 years, serving most recently as vice president,” St. John’s said in the statement. “If these allegations are true, Ms. Chang’s actions are a complete betrayal of what our university stands for.”
According to the district attorney’s charges, Chang was required to submit her credit card bills to the university with an explanation of the expenses. Among the submissions were allegedly charges made for non-work related items such as casino expenses, shopping — including items purchased at Victoria’s Secret and groceries — meals at restaurants, fast food, gasoline, cable television and insurance, the DA said.
Chang, who had the authority to bestow scholarships at St. John’s, also allegedly gave her son, Steven, a scholarship to attend the law school. When told this scholarship could not be awarded and that she must pay for her son’s tuition, Chang allegedly used the credit card paid for by the school to bankroll his tuition.
Brown also alleges that Chang stole $250,000 donated by a charitable foundation run by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. The Alwaleed bin Talal Foundation allegedly believed it was giving the money to a nonprofit started by Chang, the Global Development Initiative Foundation, according to Brown.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.