By John Burton
FREEHOLD – Peter F. Burnham, the long serving and disgraced Brookdale Community College president, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Burnham appeared before Superior Court Judge Thomas F. Scully on Friday, Nov. 30, when the judge handed down Burnham’s sentence for official misconduct and theft while serving as the college president. Scully also ordered Burnham to pay $44,497 in restitution, according to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
Burnham will be ineligible for parole for two years of the five-year sentence, according to the terms of the negotiated plea agreement.
Burnham, a 68-year-old Colts Neck resident, had been president of the county college for nearly two decades.
Burnham appeared in Superior Court on July 24 and pleaded guilty to two counts of official misconduct and one count of theft by deception.
Authorities charged that Burnham used his college-issued credit cards inappropriately, racking up personal charges for such things as personal travel, lodging at choice hotels, expensive meals and alcohol, clothing, electronic equipment and other purchases.
The credit cards were intended for Burnham’s use in his role as the school’s top administrator. He was expected to offer documentation for the expenses to college staff members. Authorities charged he often didn’t do that, or presented false notations and representations for the purchases.
The prosecutor’s office said Burnham “engaged in a continuous scheme to defraud” the college, from June 2003 through February 2011, resulting in Burnham bilking the college of more than $24,000.
In addition, Burnham defrauded Monmouth University of about $20,000. A provision of his contract with Brookdale entitled Burnham to get reimbursement for his children’s college tuition. After stepping down from his post in March 2011 and after already receiving $20,000 in reimbursement for his son’s tuition, Burnham applied for and received federal financial aid. When the university noticed the double payment, it issued a refund to Burnham’s son, with Burnham keeping the money for his own financial benefit as opposed to repaying Brookdale or Monmouth, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The Burnham revelations rocked the college in 2011, causing its board of trustees to undertake an audit of the president’s office.
In July, board chairman Jacob S. Elkes said the college had “instituted a series of stringent controls,” and additional oversight against such abuses.
When he resigned in March 2011, Burnham was earning $216,000 a year in base salary, plus numerous perks, such as a car, a $1,500 a month housing allowance and an annual membership to an exclusive Middletown country club.