'Dean of Mean' turned down deal, humiliated to go to court

QUEENS, New York - Cecilia Chang, 59, the former dean of Asian studies at St John's University, had turned on the gas fireplace and slit her wrists before hanging herself, the New York Daily News reported.

The woman dubbed the 'Dean of Mean' was humiliated, her lawyer, John Iannuzzi, told the paper.

He said that she found it embarrassing that she even had to go to court.

Commenting on her suicide, he told the paper that she was thrown to the "wolves by St. John's after she devoted her life to them and raised millions for them. Maybe in hindsight we should have seen something."

A source close to Chang also told the paper that she was actually offered a deal by the prosecutors to serve two to six years in a minimum-security federal prison camp rather than a potentially more violent state facility.

However, she rejected and chose to fight the suit that carried a sentence of up to 20 years if found guilty of federal bribery, forced labour and tax evasion charges.

She also faced a separate charge of embezzling more than US$1 million (S$1.22 million) from St. John's, with the prospect of 25 years added to a federal sentence.

She maintained that she had committed no crime as she was recouping her expenses from raising US$20 million for St. John's.

The source added that she did not care about spending money on her lawyers, and that she was planning on fighting all the charges because she was a woman with pride.

However, the work of her lawyers came undone when she took to the stand.

She delivered a testimony that was described by the paper to be incoherent and belligerent, as she refused to respond to "yes" and "no" questions posed to her by the prosecutor and her lawyers. She was also warned by the judge repeatedly for her non-compliance.

The daily also reported that jurors were not convinced on her forced labour charges but were convinced that she was guilty of tax evasion and providing false statements.

In another report by the paper earlier this week, it emerged that Chang was the prime suspect in her first husband's execution-styled murder.

Ruey Fung Tsai - known as "Johnson" - died on July 31 in 1990 after being shot 11 days earlier in front of his business premises in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

According to the New York Daily News, a source had told them that he was unable to speak because he had a tube running down his throat, but wrote on a piece of paper to the detectives, "My wife did this."

Eye witnesses to the incident had reported that a young Asian man walked up to Tsai, shot him, and then fled to the subway and disappeared.

Despite the claims of her husband, the police were unable to pin the murder on her.

abrahamr@sph.com.sg

HELPLINES
Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): 1800-2214444
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800- 2837019
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