Peter Burnham, former Brookdale Community College President, recently appeared in New Jersey criminal court for abusing his power as head of the county college.
As per a plea agreement that he worked out with the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Burnham pled guilty before Judge Thomas F. Scully to two counts of official misconduct and one count of theft by deception.
His sentencing is scheduled for September 21.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Burnham, who is 68, faces a maximum of 5 years in prison.
Burnham also stands to lose a portion of or his entire pension and will likely be forced to repay the $44,000 that he unlawfully obtained through fraudulent means.
Back in March 2011, Burnham resigned from the college amid controversy over his contract and spending practices.
Burnham had one of the most generous employment contracts among New Jersey college presidents. In addition to his $216,000-a-year salary, the college covered increases in his property taxes, the cost of a new car, paid for his country club membership, and gave him up to $20,000 a year for each of his two sons to attend colleges of their choice.
During the 15-month criminal investigation, the state discovered fraudulent and misrepresented receipts for personal items.
Burnham charged personal hotel stays, clothing, electronics, alcohol, and groceries to his school account, sometimes altering receipts or lying about the reason for the charges on Brookdale’s expense reports.
He would also approach the Brookdale finance board with receipts for these items and misrepresent them to be things like briefcases and office supplies.
Moreover, the state revealed that Burnham fabricated the existence of “meetings” that never happened in order to justify travel and meal expenses.
In addition to admitting to the lavish expenses and cover ups, Burnham also pled guilty to using his son’s tuition reimbursement for personal use.
Before the investigation began, Brookdale told the county that it planned on raising tuition. As a result, Freehold Director John Curley requested a line-item budget from Brookdale.
When Curley received the budget, he was troubled with the spending by Burnham’s office.
“I was in essence a whistle-blower. There were other freeholders that complained, but I was the one that did the research and shot the gun,” Curley told reporters.
Curley explained, “It was me getting a copy of that budget and looking at the press office budget and looking at his contract and realizing what he had was heinous. And looking at all the expenses from the president’s office, it did not appear to be correct. From my business background, I just had a complete shock at what I saw.”
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