By Karen Frantz
The disgraced former St. John’s University dean who was accused of stealing more than $1 million from the school and forcing students to work as her personal servants was found dead in her Jamaica Estates home in an apparent suicide Tuesday.
Police found the body of a 59-year-old Asian woman at Cecilia Chang’s home around 7:38 a.m., according to the NYPD. Authorities were still waiting for the family to identify the body, although St. John’s released a statement acknowledging the death. The New York Post reported Chang had hanged herself and earlier had attempted to slit her wrists and kill herself with gas from her fireplace.
Police said no foul play was suspected in the ongoing investigation into the death of the former dean, who had an extravagant lifestyle during her years at St. John’s. She lived in a palatial house not far from the St. John’s campus and spent a significant amount of time at a residence at Foxwoods Casino in eastern Connecticut, according to court testimony.
By late Tuesday morning, police officers were still in Chang’s home, at 82-34 Tryon Place, and many windows and the front door were open wide.
Chang was fired after 30 years at St. John’s when a 2009 audit uncovered suspicious charges to expense accounts and university-issued credit cards. She was charged in a 205-count indictment with grand larceny, forgery and falsifying business document in September 2010 by the Queens district attorney’s office and then faced bribery charges in a trial that has been underway in Brooklyn federal court.
The death came a day after Chang took the stand to testify in her own defense.
The Post reported that members of the jury laughed at Chang’s rambling testimony as Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. frequently told her to answer questions with a simple yes or no answer and ordered some of her responses stricken from the record.
If found guilty, she would have faced as much as 20 years in prison.
A spokesman for St. John’s University said the school was saddened to learn of Chang’s death.
“We ask the entire St. John’s community to pray for her and her family,” Dominic Scianna said.
Additional reporting by Rich Bockmann.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.