Former Brookdale President Pleads Guilty to Official Misconduct Charges
Peter Burnham faces up to five years in prison.
Former Brookdale Community College President Peter Burnham appeared in criminal court Tuesday, accused of abusing his power as head of the county college.
Burnham, 68 of Colts Neck, pleaded guilty before Judge Thomas F. Scully to two counts of official misconduct and one count of theft by deception. Prosecutors say Burnham used credit cards issued to him by Brookdale to purchase more than $10,000 worth of items.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Burnham faces a maximum of five years in prison. Pending sentencing, Burnham, represented by Toms River lawyer Steven Secare, could lose the entirety or a portion of his pension.
Burnham resigned from the college in March 2011 amid controversy over his contract and spending practices. Under the terms of his contract, Burnham received a housing allowance, a new car and had his country club membership paid for by the college.
During the 15-month criminal investigation, the state, with the cooperation of Burnham, uncovered fraudulent and misrepresented receipts for personal items. Gramiccioni said Burnham would approach the Brookdale finance board with receipts for items such as electronics, groceries, travel, meals and alcohol, and represent them to the board as items such as briefcases and office supplies.
The state also uncovered meetings which never happened, which Burnham used to justify travel and meal expenses.
Burnham also pleaded guilty to using his son's tuition reimbursement, a clause in his employment contract with Brookdale, for personal use. Burnham agreed that Brookdale put $20,000 toward his son's education at Monmouth University between 2010 and 2011.
Days after Burnham's March, 2011 resignation, he instructed his son to apply for financial aid, which he was awarded in the amount of $20,000. Realizing it had been paid twice, Monmouth University sent a check back to Burnham's son, which Burnham deposited into a personal account.
Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni said Burnham's son is not the target of any current investigations.
"Mr. Burnham had known that his son's tuition had already been paid," Gramiccioni said.
Freehold Director John Curley said he had requested a line-item budget from Brookdale after the college discussed the possibility of raising tuition and had difficulty getting a hold of a copy. When he did obtain the requested line-item information, Curley said 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 said.
"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."
Gramiccioni said the state is seeking $44,000 of restitution from Burnham.
"I think it is a sufficient sentence for the crimes," he said, noting Burnham's continued cooperation in ongoing investigations.
Gramiccioni did not comment on current or future targets of state investigation. Burnham's sentence is set for Sept. 21 before Judge Scully.
"I've been speaking out on this for the past two years now, and I knew something was going to come down the line soon," Curley said.
Jacklyn Corley and Chelsea Naso contributed to this story.