Diocesan News

No Criminal Wrongdoing for Ex-St. John’s President

JAMAICA, N.Y. (CNS) – An independent investigation by St. John’s University found “no criminal wrongdoing” on the part of its recently retired president, but “errors in judgment” by top university officials over financial conflicts of interest and lack of disclosure to the school’s board of trustees.

Vincentian Father Donald J. Harrington retired at the end of July after 24 years at the helm of the university. Robert Wile, the university’s senior vice president of institutional advancement and athletics and Father Harrington’s chief of staff, also resigned earlier in the summer. Both had been the focus of the internal probe.

The investigation was authorized by the St. John’s board of trustees following the trial of Cecilia Chang, a former St. John’s dean and chief fundraiser, who had been on trial for defrauding the university and forcing international students to do personal work for her. The trial ended when Chang committed suicide the day after she took the witness stand in her own defense.

In an Aug. 23 message to St. John’s alumni, board of trustees chairman Peter D’Angelo said the errors in judgment by Father Harrington and Wile “led to conflidts of interest and failures to disclose those conflicts to the board of trustees.

According to the investigation, “no one in university management was aware of Cecilia Chang’s intricate fraud scheme,” D’Angelo said. “Her fraud was facilitated by the failure to require strict compliance by Chang with the university’s financial controls. In addition, various university personnel accepted personal gifts from Cecilia Chang, which created the appearance of conflicts of interest. Where appropriate, the recipients of those gifts have voluntarily agreed to make restitution to the university.”