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The Dean of Corruption

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Chang wanted Harrington to accept the cash.

“Give it to the poor,” he told her.

Later, she handed him another envelope. “This is for the poor,” she said.

Harrington counted the money—$2,000 in cash.

“I have a drawer in my office, which I keep locked, where, when people give me money for the poor,” he testified, “that’s where I put it.” He didn’t make a record, didn’t even count the amounts of subsequent gifts—he couldn’t recall how many envelopes he’d received over the years, maybe a half-dozen—and never reported them to the university. The reason, he told the court, was that he accepted the money in his auspices as a priest. “This was not connected to St. John’s,” he said.

Not many fund-raisers would get far if they depended on pure charity—usually, the donor must feel he or she is receiving something. Chang was more transactional than most. “They were basically selling honorary degrees,” says Mahler. Chang’s straightforward approach worked best with Asian businessmen eager to put Dr. in front of their names, especially from an American university.

Another weapon in Chang’s arsenal was Harrington himself. A striking silver-haired figure in his black clerical garb, Harrington didn’t dominate a room. But in a face-to-face meeting, he was unmatched. Like a skilled politician, he remembered everyone’s name, as well as the names of their children and pets. Every year or two, Chang took him on a ten-day swing through Asia. For Chang, it was a chance to impress her boss with her many important connections, and she planned every detail, pampering the entourage with the best of everything, explaining that donors were underwriting many of the gifts. She booked the St. John’s contingent, including Harrington and Wile and other priests, and one year her son, at the very best hotels—the Peninsula or the Regent, reserving the presidential suite for Harrington at times.

Harrington said he protested the luxury. “I just wasn’t real comfortable being who I am and how I am dressed going out of a hotel like that,” he later testified. But Chang had a different view of Harrington. Chang felt he welcomed a break from the enforced poverty—creature comforts appealed to him. And she worked hard to allay his concerns. “She assured me that this was very important for the people who were visiting because it would impact on the image of St. John’s University as a first-class university if we stayed at those places. I didn’t fight that.”

In court, Harrington presented himself as both a busy CEO commanding 3,100 employees and a naïf, unsophisticated in the ways of the world. He called himself “a kind of Brooklyn guy,” and mentioned his hearing aids. He professed to be shocked at the culture he found himself in. “Quite honestly, I was amazed at it. I had heard that gift-giving was a very, very strong part of the Chinese tradition and culture, but I saw it in practice. I told Cecilia I had to rely on her to guide me through this because I did not know the Chinese culture, and I had to know what was appropriate or not appropriate.”

So the gift horse was not looked in the mouth—and the gifts kept coming. Year after year, Chang ordered suits for Harrington from Modestos Limited and Sam’s Tailor, two of Hong Kong’s best tailors. Again, he was reluctant. “I asked what that was about, and Cecilia indicated that our friends in Hong Kong are honored by the visit from the president and the delegation, and the way they show that is by having suits made for them and presenting that as a gift,” explained Harrington in court.

According to a bill provided by Modestos Limited, Wile and the priests accounted for $50,503 over the twenty years the group had been visiting—roughly $13,000 of it for Harrington. Wile, who had expensive tastes, picked up three suits on one trip that cost twice as much as Harrington’s did—$900 for one and two for $950—and $375 for three shirts, a total of $3,050, according to a January 18, 2000, bill from Modestos Limited. Chang also bought suits for several priests at Sam’s Tailor, another favorite shop. (A St. John’s spokesperson disputed the total, saying that a review of receipts in Chang’s office showed that the cost of clothing for the St. John’s delegation at both Modestos Limited and Sam’s was not more than $20,000 over the two decades, and that some charges were reimbursed to Chang by priests.)

The gifts weren’t just bestowed by Chang. She encouraged Harrington to get a Taishin credit card, arguing that it would serve as an overseas backup to the university-­issued American Express card. Harrington resisted, but then said Wile would carry around one of the Taishin cards. “The conditions were that … both Cecilia and I would know about it before it was used,” Harrington testified.


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