A former president of Schenectady County Community College admitted Wednesday to bilking a New Jersey community college out of $40,000 by using college-issued credit cards for personal expenses and fraudulently seeking tuition reimbursement for his son.
Peter F. Burnham, who served as president of SCCC from 1984 to 1991, pleaded guilty in Monmouth County Superior Court to charges of official misconduct and theft. An investigation by Monmouth County prosecutors found that from June 2003 through February 2011, when he was president of Brookdale Community College, Burnham charged about $24,000 worth of meals, alcoholic beverages, hotel stays, clothing and electronic equipment on two credit cards issued by the college.
Burnham spent the money on lodging, airfare, meals and restaurants in Philadelphia, South Jersey, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Arizona and Delaware. He claimed they were for expenses relating to his duties as president or his participation in certain education committees and associations. However, there was no such business, prosecutors said in a news release.
Burnham provided non-itemized receipts to conceal his purchase of alcoholic beverages, which was prohibited under college regulations.
Also, Burnham fraudulently obtained $20,000 in tuition aid. As part of his employment contract, which paid him $216,000 annually, Burnham was entitled to $20,000 of tuition reimbursement per school year for any family member to attend any state college or university.
His son, who was attending Monmouth University, had already been reimbursed for the 2010-2011 school year. However, three days after Burnham resigned from BCC, he and his son submitted an application for federal student aid without disclosing he had already been reimbursed. Monmouth University, after noting the overpayment for tuition, sent a $20,398 reimbursement check. Burnham deposited this into his personal bank account.
Burnham pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree official misconduct and one count of third-degree theft by deception as part of a negotiated plea agreement. The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office will recommend that Burnham receive a five-year state prison term with a statutorily mandated two-year period of parole ineligibility. Burnham also must pay restitution.
He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 21.
Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said the fraud was uncovered following an audit of the college’s annual budget expenses. That ended up being referred to his office for follow-up criminal investigation.
“People who are public servants, public officials, they can’t be stealing from their employers. They have a duty of honesty and integrity and he violated that duty by stealing these funds,” he said.