Feds look to take Chang’s home; her son fights suit

Chang's house last November.

Torch Photo/Anthony O'Reilly

Chang's house last November.

Federal prosecutors are attempting to seize the Jamaica Estates home of the late dean Cecilia Chang as well as funds tied with her embezzlement schemes, but her son has argued that he is the house’s “rightful heir.”

An initial conference in the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn last June, was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, according to the docket report.

Stephen Mahler, one of the attorneys who defended Chang during her federal fraud trial, filed a notice of claim in August on behalf of Chang’s son, Steven, attempting to prevent the prosecutors from obtaining her home.

His motion comes after the federal prosecutors filed paperwork looking to seize Chang’s Tudor-style home located on 82-34 Tyron Place and $434,616.55 from a bank account Chang allegedly had opened in a former student’s name, according to court documents obtained by The Torch.

Chang, former dean of the Center for Asian Studies and vice president of International Relations at the University, was arrested in 2010 and faced a federal trial last fall on charges that she stole University money, mostly through fraudulent expense reports, and forced international scholarship students to act as her personal servants.

Chang — who was fired by the University in June 2010, three months before she was arrested — committed suicide in her home a day after testifying last November.

Prosecutors argue in their suit that because the forced labor is alleged to have taken place in Chang’s residence, “the property is liable to condemnation and to forfeiture to the United States,” according to the court documents.

“Rather than arrange university-related work opportunities for these scholarship students, Chang instead forced many students to perform labor for Chang personally at her home at the Tyron Place property,” the suit says.

Activities for the international students, according to the lawsuit, included cooking, cleaning and laundry, and students were warned that their scholarships would be in jeopardy of being revoked if they told anyone what they were doing.

Chang’s son, Steven, who is described in court papers as an attorney licensed to practice law in Hawaii, said he deserves to be considered the heir to the house because he “had no knowledge or reason to know the property in question was related to criminal activity.”

William J. Gullotta, the Assistant U.S. Attorney in  the forfeiture suit, had “no comment” on the case and wouldn’t disclose details of the earlier meeting.

A trial is not expected to take place at least until next summer.