Harrington had developed a close working relationship with Wile, whom he’d hired in 1999, the year he graduated from St. John’s. They were a good fit. Wile, square-shouldered and athletic—he’d helped lead the St. John’s soccer team to an NCAA championship—was personable and easygoing, a complement to the stiffer, more formal Harrington. Donors liked him, as did their kids. Harrington enjoyed his open manner, too, and they became friends outside the office—it was a father-son relationship, some said.
In 2004, Harrington appointed Wile, not far past 25, his chief of staff; even before that, Wile put Chang’s credit-card account to work. A year earlier, he’d made charges at a restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey ($953.93); a liquor store in Westbury, Long Island ($455.66); and an Exxon Mobil station in Flushing ($35.66). There was an expense in Las Vegas ($270.99) and another for a Thai bistro in Forest Hills ($116.72), among others.
In late May 2003, Wile racked up the heftiest charge that year, $8,474.82 in Turks and Caicos, most of it at the Point Grace hotel, a luxury resort where he and Father Harrington spent a few days. That vacation was shortly after Harrington’s father died, and Chang, ever attentive to his needs, urged Harrington to take a vacation, assuring him that in Chinese culture it was customary to offer a gift to someone who’s lost a close family member—Harrington testified that he reported gifts to his local religious superior in accordance with his vow of poverty but declined to comment on whether he’d reported the Turks and Caicos vacation. When Wile wanted to bring along his girlfriend, Harrington—just as he did for himself and Wile—booked her flight with points from his St. John’s American Express card. Chang, of course, passed the expense for the vacation on to the university.
Two years later, in 2005, Wile went on a shopping spree in Hong Kong. He spent $1,201.99 at Ermenegildo Zegna, Louis Vuitton, Lanvin, Hermès, and others. The next year, he dropped $1,200 at Prada. In June 2008, he billed $2,367.29 to Chang’s account after stops at Lanvin in Hong Kong. Wile’s purchases were for him and his wife. Wile, who testified before a Queens County grand jury and received state immunity, later explained to investigators, “It was incredibly stupid, but Cecilia said, ‘Go ahead, you deserve it,’ and said it was all covered by donors,” according to an account of the conversation. And then, too, his boss, Father Harrington, approved his purchases, either before or immediately after.
Harrington had, by then, developed a deep trust in Wile. They’d gone into a real-estate venture together. They registered GRH Group LLC with an address at Wile’s then-home in Tenafly, New Jersey, and in February 2006 purchased a house at 59 Ridge Road in the Jersey-shore town of Rumson. They paid $659,000, according to county records, leveled the old house, built a new one, and two years later, in February 2008, flipped the property for $1,470,000, which after mortgages and a down payment netted about $200,000, though Harrington said through a St. John’s spokesman that he made no profit.
That Chang benefited from her elaborate subterfuge is clear—to the tune of over $1 million, charged the Queens D.A., though it was probably double that. But she didn’t appear to make money from the couple of hundred thousand dollars in gifts to Harrington, Wile, and other university officials—that was more in the way of managing up. Chang seemed sure she was fulfilling their wishes. “With our delegation,” she testified, “go to Hong Kong, we go to the jewelry shop. Whatever they walk around they pick up, so I just pick up the bill.”
Among the expensive road-trip party favors, luxury watches were a particular specialty. “She explained to me that a watch has very special significance in terms of a gift in Asia because of its long life,” Harrington testified. “I never understood it fully, but I respected it because that’s what she said.”
Harrington testified that he assumed the watches were gifts from Samson Sun, a Hong Kong watch merchant and honorary-degree recipient—“a wonderful, wonderful man,” Harrington said—but didn’t ask. It wasn’t Sun, though. In an e-mail, Sun wrote, “I was not the donor of any watches to Father Harrington or the St. John’s people.”
Harrington chose a Patek Philippe estimated to be worth around $5,000 and, during a June 2008 trip, an equally pricey Omega platinum Case Gent’s, though he later sounded as if he’d been forced to accept them. “I don’t use it,” he said of the Omega. On one trip, Wile received a stainless-steel Rolex Submariner.
Chang knew that on the way home from Asia, Harrington always stopped in Hawaii for a few days to avoid the jet lag that he said otherwise lasted ten days. In June 2008, Harrington and his contingent booked a Four Seasons in Hawaii. Usually the university picked up the bill, but that year Chang volunteered to pay—she said there was an unnamed donor. Wile put the $13,000-plus on Chang’s account. Harrington said he thought he was saving the university money, though Chang billed it to St. John’s.