'Dean of Mean': I didn't take $1.2m, I took back what was mine

NEW YORK, Brooklyn - Cecilia Chang, the former dean of Asian Studies at St. John's University in the United States, claimed on Monday that she did not take US$1 million (S$1.22 million) from the school.

She revealed that the amount she took to spend on personal and travel expenses was less than $1 million - supposedly, in the range of hundreds of thousands, reported the New York Daily News. However the exact figure was not disclosed.

The report also said that she felt the money in question was owed to her for business-related gifts that she had purchased out of her own pocket.

The woman, dubbed the 'Dean of Mean', also claimed she lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about the amount that she had embezzled because she was drunk at the time of the interview.

Chang took to the stand in court despite her lawyers' advice not to, the paper reported.

She admitted to spending on personal items and using her students as personal servants. She added that she had submitted false claims documents to the university for such purchases at Victoria's Secret, gambling services and memberships at online dating sites because she could not be reimbursed for the business-related expenditure.

The former dean, who was described by the tabloid to have been aggressive and incoherent at times, was told off by the judge for screaming at him.

The court also heard that she had raised over $20 million for the university during her time at the helm.

She testified in court that she had financed the university's former president Rev. Joseph Cahill's weekly gambling trips to Atlantic City and the racetracks. Rev. Cahill died in 2003 at the age of 84.

She also claimed that she had passed current president, Rev. Donald Harrington over $400,000 in cash for the poor. She added that he had 40 to 50 custom-made suits from famed "Sam the Tailor" in Hong Kong.

Chang first arrived at St. John's in 1975 as the beneficiary of a study grant, because her family had helped build the Sun Yat Sen Hall on campus.

After earning her master's degree, she became a globe-trotting ambassador and fundraiser for the university.

She claimed that her activities were never monitored by the former school president Cahill or current president Harrington.

When she was questioned about her using students as unpaid servants in her home, she explained that there wasn't anything improper about putting the students to work in her home because it was like a "home base" for school duties, and there wasn't enough work in the Asian studies department for 19 students.

She also said that the reports of washing clothes were exaggerated as there was not much laundry to be done.

In an earlier report, the paper had claimed that Cecilia Chang was the prime suspect in her first husband's execution-styled murder.

Ruey Fung Tsai - known as "Johnson" was (remove was) 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

Become a fan on Facebook