Wrong address on driver's license snags Camden County official

Freeholder Ian Leonard: "It's not a big conspiracy."
Freeholder Ian Leonard: "It's not a big conspiracy."
Posted: March 12, 2013

On a blustery day last month, police pulled over a Camden County elected official for chatting on the cellphone while driving.

After paying a $133 fine, Freeholder Ian Leonard was left to explain why his driver's license showed he did not live in the county where he serves and votes.

In New Jersey, elected officials must live in the town or county they represent. Residency became an issue in recent court battles involving state Senate candidate Carl Lewis, the Olympic track and field champion, and Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D., Gloucester).

In 2009, Leonard was appointed to the all-Democratic, seven-member Board of Chosen Freeholders to fill a vacancy and then won an election last year to retain his seat.

Leonard, 36, said he lives in Camden's Cooper Grant neighborhood, a revitalized area near Rutgers University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in public administration. Real estate records show he paid $210,000 for his house in 2005.

But his driver's license listed his address as Browns Mills, a section of Pemberton in Burlington County.

The license, which he says he has updated, became public after he was stopped Feb. 28 in Gloucester City. As the freeholder in charge of public works, he said he was out surveying road conditions and noticed an area where work was needed. When he placed a call to the city administrator to discuss the problem, he said, an officer pulled him over for illegally using a handheld cellphone while driving.

The reason Browns Mills was listed as his address on his license, he said, is that it was his "home address as a child . . . and my home of record for the military." Leonard, who serves in the Air National Guard with the 177th Fighter Wing, said that "in the military, you can have a home of record and then a legal residence."

He simply neglected to change his driver's license after moving to Camden, he said. "This was something I forgot to do," he said.

A rigorous new procedure for issuing and renewing licenses was adopted in 2003, after several hijackers in the 9/11 terrorist attack used falsified New Jersey driver's licenses. Residents now must provide six forms of identification to prove their identities and addresses are valid.

Under those stringent rules, Leonard would have had to sign documents attesting to the accuracy of his Browns Mills address when he renewed his license four years ago. A warning at the bottom of one form says applicants must be truthful in providing information or face penalties.

If a problem with an address is discovered, the state Motor Vehicle Commission has the authority to suspend a license and then require proofs of residency, spokesman Mike Horan said. "If we determined there was some kind of intended fraud, we could pursue a longer suspension period" of up to two years, he said.

"We need to keep our records up to date and current," he said, explaining that motor-vehicle records are used when mailing out court summonses and license suspensions.

Leonard said he did not recall signing a document saying the information he provided on the license application was accurate. "It's not like I was trying to get away with something; it's not a big conspiracy," he said.

Leonard, state political director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he likely used his military documents as proof of his residence and a household bill.

After he was issued his ticket, Leonard said someone contacted him to give him a "heads-up" about the driver's license issue.

"I got a call that said this is a big deal, and I immediately went in to fix it," he said. He could not recall who contacted him.

Leonard said he visited the Motor Vehicle Commission earlier this month to change his address. "It was just a mistake, and I admitted I made it," he said.

Contact Jan Hefler

at 856-779-3224, jhefler@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog, "Burlco Buzz," at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

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