Cecilia Chang found dead hours after testifying in federal court

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A former dean at St. John's University on trial in federal court in Brooklyn for allegedly forcing scholarship students to act as her personal servants was found dead overnight, an apparent suicide, her attorney said Tuesday.

Attorney Stephen Mahler of Atlantic Beach said he had no further details about the death of Cecilia Chang, 57, a resident of Jamaica Estate.

He said the death would be brought to the attention of Judge Sterling Johnson, who had been presiding at the jury trial. Johnson was not expected to inform the jury until Chang's family had been notified of the death.

Her death came a day after she took the stand in her own defense and made a stumbling presentation that did little to help her case, according to reports published Tuesday. Summations had been expected Tuesday.

Chang, a former 30-year St. John's employee and major fundraiser who lived in a $1.7-million mansion, had also faced state charges that she embezzled $1 million from the school. She had been free finding co-signers willing to post property to secure a $1.5-million bond.

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Chang allegedly controlled 15 scholarships for foreign students -- mainly Asian students. She made them cook, clean her house, take out the garbage, shovel snow and chauffeur her if they wanted to keep their scholarships. She is accused of violating federal forced-labor and bribe-taking laws.

The onetime vice president and dean of Asian studies at the university was charged last month by state prosecutors in Queens with diverting donations -- including a $250,000 gift from a Saudi prince -- into personal accounts and charging thousands in personal bills to her expense account.

Chang was suspended by St. John's in January and fired in June.

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