Berendzen Charged in Phone Case

Keith Harriston and Patricia Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 12, 1990

Richard E. Berendzen, who abruptly resigned as president of American University last month after officials traced obscene phone calls to his office, was charged yesterday with two misdemeanor counts of making indecent calls to residents of an Annandale home.

The official charges -- using indecent language while engaging in conversation over the telephone -- were filed against Berendzen about 3:30 p.m. after he met with a police investigator in a Fairfax office, police said.

He was arrested and released after signing a court summons stating that he would appear June 28 at a hearing in Fairfax General District Court , according to police.

No further charges are expected.

Fairfax County police filed the charges a week after Berendzen, a Harvard-educated astronomer, left Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where sources said he had been treated at the Sexual Disorders Clinic since shortly after his resignation.

The charges stemmed from calls Berendzen allegedly made to the home of a Fairfax police investigator on March 28 and 29, police said. The investigator, Dave Allen, received one of the calls and his wife received the other, according to a law enforcement source.

Charges were not brought in a second case investigated by police, the source said. The victim in that case, a former law enforcement officer, has moved out of the state, the source said.

Berendzen, who could receive a maximum of 12 months in jail, was not available for comment yesterday. His attorney, Gerard F. Treanor Jr., did not return phone calls.

In a statement released yesterday, police spokesman Warren Carmichael said that "with the exception of one additional victim, who is no longer in this area, no other violations of criminal law by Berendzen were found to have occurred."

Officials at the university in Northwest Washington had no comment about the charges, which were filed the day before a week's worth of graduation ceremonies were to begin.

Berendzen, 51, submitted his resignation on April 8. He stated his reason as exhaustion.

Two weeks later, the university's Board of Trustees released a statement that said Berendzen resigned "in the best interest of the university" after "allegations of improper behavior."

The next day, reports surfaced that the Fairfax County police Child Services Unit, which investigates potential child abuse or exploitation, was investigating obscene phone calls that had led directly to Berendzen's private phone line in his university office.

A police source said that the caller in the cases they were investigating had made inappropriate or sexually oriented comments to adult child-care providers about children under their care.

Berendzen released a three-paragraph statement through his attorney on April 26 in which he said he was embarrassed by the circumstances surrounding his departure and apologized for any pain it created. He did not then address the allegations and has not responded to the charges.

Named president of American University in 1980, Berendzen left a campus vastly different from the one he took over.

In the decade of his tenure, the university's endowment increased from $ 5 million to $ 20 million, incoming students' average scores on the SAT exams jumped 200 points, and buildings were constructed at the school's campus on Nebraska Avenue in Northwest, including Bender Arena, a new sports facility.

Berendzen came to American University in 1974, when he was named dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and associate professor of physics. His resignation as president is effective on May 20, after the last commencement ceremony.

He is still a tenured professor of physics at AU. The Board of Trustees must still resolve that status, but the university does not expect him to return to a job on campus.


© 1990 The Washington Post Company