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A former dean of St. John’s University on trial on charges she forced students to perform menial labor to keep their scholarships was found dead on Tuesday in an apparent suicide, Reuters reports.
Cecilia Chang, 59, was found in her Queens, New York, home by police, her attorney Joel Cohen told U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson in Brooklyn. The cause of death was still being determined, but it appeared she killed herself, Cohen said. She faced up to 20 years in prison on the forced labor charge.
Chang’s death came days after she took the stand to defend herself against claims that from at least 2007 until 2010 she threatened to withhold scholarship funds unless students made her food, cleaned her house and performed other chores. Chang also was charged with bribery and filing false tax returns.
The trial, which began on October 9, was scheduled to continue Tuesday, but Johnson sent jurors home after receiving word that Chang’s body had been identified by one of her tenants.
On Monday, during testimony that at times elicited shock and laughter from observers, Chang admitted she had charged personal items to the school and asked students to wash her clothes. She denied she had ever broken the law.
Chang had been indicted separately in Queens state court for allegedly embezzling $1 million from the school. A hearing was scheduled in that case for Nov. 13, her lawyers said.
After receiving word of Chang’s death, the judge speculated she had taken the stand in order to “get it off her chest.”