Cecilia Chang, the former dean of St. John’s Institute for Asian Studies is no longer at Rikers Island after posting $1 million bail yesterday morning, according to the Queens District Attorney office. The full bail package was approved by Judge James P. Griffin of the State Supreme Court.
Chang’s attorney Ronald Rubinstein, a criminal attorney in Manhattan, offered a glimpse into her defense during a telephone interview with the Torch.
“Any money she spent was spent on behalf of St. John’s, there was no embezzlement. She raised millions of dollars for the University for over 30 years,” Rubinstein said. “We’re talking about a woman that invested her life’s effort on behalf of St. John’s and we’re hoping to show that this case is just bookkeeping mistakes.”
According to Rubenstein, her overseas expenses were for the benefit of the University, confirming that she travelled overseas multiple times to raise money for St. John’s.
“They knew about it, authorized it, and endorsed it. I’d like someone to show me where she spent the money that she got improperly,” he said.
Joseph Oliva, General Counsel for the Office of the President, and the acting attorney for St. John’s said they are fully cooperating with enforcement regarding the investigation but had no further comment at this time.
Kevin Ryan, spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, confirmed that the reason Chang waited two weeks in jail before posting her bail was because of investigation being conducted by the FBI.
“Just this morning she has decided not wait to see what is going to happen with the federal investigation. She posted bail, she is released,” Ryan said. “We are in the pre-trial stages, but she is out of jail.”
Reached by phone late Tuesday after
noon, Chang repeated several times that fundraising is different in China and Taiwan. At her home in Jamaica Estates later in the evening, Chang sat outside on the stoop with her son, Steven. While pacing up and down the stone stairway, she refused to comment for legal reasons and asked to not be quoted from the previous phone interview.
A “For Rent” sign was posted on the property where Chang is required to wear an ankle-bracelet that electronically monitors her movements and restricts her to the five boroughs, Nassau, and Suffolk counties, according to Ryan. If she leaves these designated areas, an alarm will be set off by the ankle-bracelet that will immediately notify the police.
Ryan also said she was required to surrender her passports. Chang has dual-citizenship in Taiwan and the United States. “She made numerous trips overseas,” he said. “We just felt it was necessary in order to ensure that she didn’t flee the country.”
Chang was arrested Sept. 15 for allegedly embezzling more than $1 million from St. John’s. She faces a 205-count indictment that includes first-degree grand larceny, second-degree forgery, and first-degree falsification of business records, according to the District Attorney’s office. Chang’s next appearance in court is set for Nov. 3.
Rubenstein said that Chang’s release will allow her to participate in reviewing the documents involved in the case.
“It’s important to have her out of jail because the documents are luminous,” he said. “We need her to go through the documents with us. She’s not going to do it alone, but she is the best person to point out things to prove she’s innocent.”
St. John’s is holding 60 boxes containing credit card statements and billings to be used as evidence of wrong doing, according to Rubinstein.
“She made a presentation to them when the problem came up, that she thought was satisfactory. Months later, she winds up getting arrested,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ve treated her fairly, she was terminated after being an employee for 30 years.”
Dominic Scianna, vice president of media relations, refused to comment on Chang’s release from jail. He indicated her actions against the University were addressed in a statement released previously by media relations.
“If these allegations are true, Ms. Chang’s actions are a complete betrayal of what our University stands for,” the statement said.
Although Judge James P. Griffin of the State Supreme Court in Queens set bail at her arraignment, Chang declined to post the bail at that time.
Rubinstein said he advised his client to wait until more was known about the federal investigation before she posted bail at the state level. Posting bail at the federal level is cheaper than at the state level because there is no premium from using a bail bondsman.
“We didn’t make bail in the federal court,” Rubinstein said. “The premium on the state bail was $60,000.”
According to Rubinstein, the money used to post bail was not Chang’s.
“The money came from people who believe in her,” he said.