In a case that is dominating university news in the US, a -Taiwanese-born administrator has been charged with embezzling more than US$1 million and forcing foreign students — some believed to be from Taiwan — to work as her personal servants.
As a result of the charges, Cecilia Chang (章曙彤), 57, has been fired from her job as vice president for international relations and dean of the Center for Asian Studies at St John’s University in New York City.
She has pleaded not guilty to financial fraud, but has not yet made a plea in the forced labor case. It could be months before she faces trial.
As part of a bail hearing last month, Chang, her hands cuffed behind her back, listened in silence as the prosecution read a 205-count indictment including charges of grand larceny, forgery and falsification of business records.
She was freed on US$1.5 million bail and ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device.
However, this week Chang was arrested again to face additional charges of forcing students to clean her house, wash her clothes, cook her food and act as her personal servants to keep their scholarships.
Ron Rubenstein, one of Chang’s lawyers, said after the arraignment that the students were working as a normal part of the St John’s work-study program.
He said that many of their tasks were to help with Taiwanese dignitaries visiting Chang’s home.
Prosecutors argued against renewing her bail and said Chang should be held in prison as a “flight risk” because she holds a Taiwanese passport and Taiwan does not have an extradition treaty with the US.
She was being held in custody until a judge decides on the bail question.
Prosecutor Charles Kleinberg said that Chang had told a university official that she was ready to flee to Taiwan.
“She’s putting her skates on and getting ready to go,” he said.
Chang, whose main job was fundraising, had the authority to grant 15 scholarships a year each valued at more than US$5,000.
Scholarship students were told they had to work 20 hours a week at the Institute of Asian Studies, but prosecutors said that when the students arrived in New York they were ordered by Chang to do menial tasks at her home.
According to the prosecution, one student had to deliver cash to her as she gambled at a casino, another had to drive her son to the airport at 3am. Others had to drive her to the hairdresser every week, take out her garbage and shovel the snow from the front of her house in the winter, prosecutors said.
She allegedly had four students working seven days a week as her personal valets. One student has told authorities that he was ordered to change Chang’s credit card statements for personal expenses so that she could submit them for reimbursement.
“Chang threatened the students and placed them in fear that if they refused to perform these personal services, they would lose their scholarships and be unable to attend St John’s,” FBI Special Agent Kenneth Hosey said.
The identities of the students involved are not being revealed by the courts.
Chang, who worked for St John’s for 30 years, has an undergraduate degree from Tamkang University in Taipei and a graduate degree from Columbia University in New York.
If convicted of all charges, she could go to prison for 10 to 20 years.
Chang traveled the world raising funds for the university and her expenses sometimes reached US$50,000 a month. She often visited Taiwan and charged much of her travel and other expenses to a credit card issued by a Taiwanese financial institution, making it difficult for auditors in New York to determine exactly how the money had been spent. Prosecutors now say that hundreds of thousands of dollars went to gambling in casinos, her son’s law school fees and luxury lingerie.