Museum Founder and Former Trustee Adrift in Dangerous Waters

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May 30, 2011; Source: | This story is so convoluted that it is hard to really get ones arms around, but I think the adage “don’t try this at home” is apt. Apparently, Deborah Whitcraft, founder and curator of the New Jersey Maritime Museum sold a property to William Burris, one of the trustees of the museum with the caveat that payments on the mortgage, which she held, were to have gone to support the operating costs of the museum. The annual payments were to have amounted to $90,000 over a twenty-year period or $1.8 million altogether.

Way too close for comfort.

Anyway, Whitcraft is now suing Burris in Ocean County Superior Court, alleging that Burris stopped paying on the loan after he, through a series of transactions, eliminated the security for the loan and left the museum high and dry. Says Whitcraft, “I have spent a lifetime building this museum, and it is completely disheartening to see a former member of our board of trustees causing such great damage to this beautiful place…We carefully set up this loan to ensure a steady flow of income to the museum, and now Burris has ripped that apart.”

Burris defended himself by saying that he had to reduce the museum’s call on him because he needed the money to defend himself on other lawsuits. No doubt. But, again, even if you are the most charismatic and passionate founder on earth, it does not protect you from scoundrels and bad press when you cut corners and engage in such stuff as business transactions with members of your board.—Ruth McCambridge