A gripping yarn about a former St. John’s University dean who committed suicide, also details her penchant for gambling away thousands of dollars at a casino in Connecticut. The story underscores one of many tales of how casinos play a role in person’s downfall, leading to crimes, divorce and suicide.
According to The New York Times, Cecilia Chang, a dean at St. John’s University in New York, “associated with a whirlwind of characters: Catholic priests, Chinese gangsters, American lawmakers, a Taiwanese general and a fantastically corrupt city politician, to name a few. She had been married three times. One husband, she had told several people, was involved in organized crime; another told the police before succumbing to gunshot wounds that she was behind the attack.”
Despite her lofty title, Chang was no academic. Her role was to bring in millions of dollars in contributions to the university from her native Taiwan. But she also enjoyed the high life. To support her lavish lifestyle, federal prosecutors accused Chang of stealing over $1 million from the university and taking $250,000 from a Saudi prince to organize academic conferences that never happened.
According to Chang’s handwritten notes, she wrote that she once had an intimate relationship with then-St. John’s president Rev. Joseph T. Cahill that included another woman employed by the university. In addition to the sexual liaisons, Chang wrote that Father Cahill took her to the racetrack and to Atlantic City, usually removing his clerical garb, the Times reports. Father Cahill died in 2003 and a university official said there are no records to support Chang’s claim.
Chang’s embezzlement and fraud coincided with more frequent trips to gamble. “In 2001, she began spending more time at Foxwoods, where she found solace at the baccarat tables, drinking Hennessy at dinner and coffee at the high-stakes tables,” the Times reports. “A federal agent testified at her trial that Dr. Chang would call her office at St. John’s from a casino suite and request bank withdrawals just shy of $10,000, the amount at which financial institutions must report a transaction to the government. The agent, Kenneth Hosey, said that students would come to Connecticut to deliver the money, and that she subsequently bought into casino games for the same amounts. (Chang’s use of students as servants earned her the moniker Dean of Mean.)
“When a prosecutor asked her in court about the transactions, Dr. Chang said that they were intended to bring good fortune; the dollar amounts coincided with her lucky numbers: nine, eight and six. People at Foxwoods remembered that she lent as much as $30,000 to fellow gamblers, and that she favored a dubious wagering strategy: doubling her bet each time she lost.”
The day after her pathetic court testimony, Chang killed herself after first starting a fire in a bedroom fireplace and closing the flue. She then went downstairs to the kitchen and turned on the gas and then slit her wrists. Eventually, she took some speaker wire back upstairs, lowered an attic ladder, and hanged herself from it.