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Inquiry at St. John's University finds no crime

St. John's University president Rev. Donald Harrington takes

St. John's University president Rev. Donald Harrington takes in the St. John's/Notre Dame game at Madsion Square Garden. (January 16, 2011) Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

An investigation into the former president of St. John's University and another administrator with ties to a dean who allegedly made students her virtual servants concluded that the two men committed "errors in judgment" that led to conflicts of interest -- but no criminal wrongdoing.

The Rev. Donald Harrington, who stepped down from the helm of the Queens school last month, and his chief of staff, Rob Wile, who also resigned this summer, came under scrutiny during an investigation into financial and academic improprieties of Cecilia Chang.

Chang, who had been accused of taking advantage of foreign students by requiring them to perform chores for her in order to keep their scholarships, committed suicide last November near the end of a federal trial in which she faced embezzlement charges.

In a series of articles about apparent financial improprieties at St. John's, New York magazine raised the question of whether Harrington and Wile had ignored Chang's inappropriate actions because she had raised some $20 million for the university.

"There were errors in judgment by Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M. and Robert Wile that led to conflicts of interest and failures to fully disclose those conflicts to the Board of Trustees," said a statement released Friday from the university, announcing the findings of a probe by Frank Wohl of Lankler Siffert & Wohl, based in Manhattan.

It went on to say that Harrington and Wile had received two loans from a university vendor and member of the board of trustees in connection with a real estate transaction but that "none of these transactions caused financial harm to the University."

It added: "Mr. Wohl also found that no one in University management was aware of Cecilia Chang's intricate fraud scheme. He found that her fraud was facilitated by the failure to require strict compliance by Chang with the University's financial controls."

The letter also said that the university has already put in place stricter financial controls and was open to more recommendations from Wohl.

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