Cecilia Chang, disgraced St. John's University dean, dead in apparent suicide

Cecilia Chang (WCBS)
Cecilia Chang

(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Cecilia Chang, the disgraced St. John's University dean accused of using students as personal servants and stealing from the school, was found dead in her apartment Tuesday of an apparent suicide, a law enforcement official said.

Chang's body was discovered hanging from a folding ladder that leads to the attic in her Queens home Tuesday morning, one day after she testified in her own defense at her criminal trial, according to the official who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The 59-year-old was the former dean of the Institute of Asian Studies and was charged in 2010 with stealing $1 million from the school and with forced labor. Federal authorities said she forced students to run personal errands for her and do mundane tasks like making meals at a veteran administrator's home or answering her personal emails, threatening to kick them out if they refused.

On Monday, Chang gave rambling, bizarre testimony where she admitted lying to an FBI agent, expensing personal items and using her students. She denied stealing from the school.

"I laid out so much money over the years," she said on the stand. "I raised $20 million for St. John's."

 U.S. District Court Judge Sterling Johnson declared a mistrial in the case. Johnson called her death "a Shakespearean tragedy" and suggested her testimony Monday was a purposeful confession.

"That could be one of the reasons she wanted to testify," Johnson told the prosecutors and Chang's lawyers, according to the Daily News of New York and the New York Post. "Sayonara. Get it off her chest. We never know how an individual handles the pressure. She admitted everything on the stand."

Chang's attorneys Joel Cohen and Alan Abramson, who had objected to Chang's decision to testify in her own defense, said she dedicated 30 years of her life to the university.

"She was a prolific fundraiser and tireless advocate for her beloved Asian Studies program at the university," they wrote. "Her death today is a sad ending to a complex human drama."

The medical examiner's office will determine a cause of death.

Complete coverage of Cecilia Chang on Crimesider