Harrington staying silent as Trustees continue investigation

Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., President of the University looked at ease Saturday at the men’s basketball team’s game at Madison Square Garden, fist-bumping with athletics officials as rumors swirled about his job security.

Facing scrutiny over questionable expenses made by his chief of staff Rob Wile that he approved, Harrington postponed indefinitely two faculty forums and an annual town hall meeting with students.

Board of Trustees chairman Peter D’Angelo told the Torch that, contrary to Internet rumors, the Board had not asked Harrington to resign as its outside investigation continues.

The board has retained white-collar attorney Frank Wohl.

“We are still reviewing the facts,” D’Angelo said in a phone interview. “So [asking him to resign] would be inappropriate and totally premature.”

The board is likely to conclude its investigation before the end of the semester.

In an email to the University community Friday, Harrington said he would like to comment on the ongoing affair, but would refrain until Wohl’s investigation concluded.

The canceled meetings, however, frustrated both students and faculty alike, as they are some of the rare opportunities for people at St. John’s to address their concerns directly to Harrington.

“His job is to lead the staff to create the best students he can and maintain the St. John’s legacy,” sophomore Colby Mrowka said. “He lacks leadership and integrity and cannot face his staff or his students.”

Harrington and Wile were the subject of yet another New York Magazine report last week, which said that Wile received a $100,000 personal loan from Thomas McInereney, a current board member who previously served as chair, in 2007. The loan was not reported to the Board.

Wile was the University’s second most highly paid employee in 2010, earning more than $500,000, trailing only men’s basketball coach Steve Lavin. As such, his salary had to be approved by the board that McInerney chaired at the time. It first went through the audit and compensation committee, of which McInerney was also a voting member.

NY Mag, which also reported that Wile received a second personal loan from a contractor who has done work for the university, quoted a Yale dean who called the loans a “gross conflict of interest,” a characterization that former federal prosecutor Douglas Burns agreed with when contacted by the Torch.

The latest report also detailed how Wile had been given two interest-free loans totaling $350,000 by the university in 2006 and 2008 in addition to his six-figure salary.

Those loans were approved by the Board on the recommendation of Harrington, according to NY Mag.

Harrington and Wile were in on a real estate venture under a holding company called GRH Group LLC from 2004 to 2008, in which they spent more than $600,000 on a house that they later flipped for nearly double that. University officials have said that Harrington made no profit in the deal, though Burns – the former federal prosecutor contacted by the Torch – said the loans could present problems because of the business relationship between Wile and Harrington.

“It’s a question of evidence, provability and intent,” Burns said.

“If he intentionally received those loans [to benefit GRH] then it’s a serious ethical breach, a conflict of interest and a degradation of fiduciary duties… You have to wonder, why is the University lending money to this guy in the first place?”

The Torch has learned that the two loans from St. John’s to Wile came out of the University’s general fund, which includes students’ tuition.

The University declined to comment on the matter, citing the Board of Trustees’ ongoing investigation. University officials have previously said that all money that former dean

Cecilia Chang embezzled was taken from monies allocated to the Center of Asian Studies.

The latest scrutiny has sprung in part from reports saying that Wile used a Taishin credit card issued to him by Chang for various personal expenses that were later billed to the University.

Harrington testified in Chang’s federal trial in October that he and Chang both approved every charge Wile made, which included items such as a $298 charge at an pro shop outside Atlantic City.

Harrington further testified that he had allowed Chang to issue the Taishin card to Wile because they sometimes ran into trouble using
the University’s American Express card in Asia.

However, according to reports and credit card statements obtained by the Torch, the vast majority of purchases made by Wile’s card were done in the U.S., and none were used in Japan, Taiwan or mainland China – the purported reason behind issuing the card in the first place.

University officials told the Torch last week that neither Harrington nor Wile knew that the charges from Wile’s card were being submitted in Chang’s fraudulent expense reports to St. John’s.

-Additional reporting by Peter Long, Entertainment Editor, Kieran Lynch, Features Editor, Anthony O’Reilly, News Editor, and Shannon Luibrand, Assistant Features Editor