Camden County freeholder fixes auto-insurance address

Posted: March 14, 2013

Shortly after Camden County Freeholder Ian Leonard was stopped for using a cellphone while driving, he moved to correct the address on his driver's license.

Leonard, a member of the freeholder board since 2009, has lived in Camden for more than a decade. But his license displayed his father's address - his childhood home - in Burlington County.

Last week, Leonard, 36, said he simply neglected to update his address after moving out of Browns Mills, and corrected the license when someone alerted him.

This week, he conceded that he also changed his automobile insurance policy, noting that it, too, listed the Browns Mills address. That afforded him cheaper rates than a Camden address would.

"I changed it last week . . . not because I felt I was doing something wrong," he said. "I did it because of the perception of people - people are asking if this is insurance fraud."

Camden has the highest crime rate in the country, according to CQ Press' latest crime report. Insurance companies use crime statistics to assign risk and set premiums.

Leonard, a Democrat, said that when he made the address change, his premium went up "a couple hundred dollars." He would not divulge the insurance company that sold him the policy for his silver 2010 four-door Mercury.

But saving money, he said, was not why he used the Browns Mills address. The union that employs him provides him with a car for everyday use and pays its insurance, while his personal vehicle is primarily garaged at his father's home for his father's use, he said.

"I bought it to help my father," Leonard said.

According to 2012 standard rate charts compiled by the state Department of Banking and Insurance, one type of Geico policy likely would have charged Leonard about $300 more in Camden and an Allstate policy about $800 more. Those are the two top-selling auto insurers in New Jersey.

Leonard, state political director for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he uses the union fleet vehicle for work and accepts a paycheck deduction that allows him to use it when he is off duty.

He said he used the other car "once in a while."

Frank Fulbrook, who lives near Leonard and is vice president of the Cooper-Grant Neighborhood Association in Camden, said he had seen Leonard driving a silver sedan and a silver SUV "interchangeably" in recent years. "I wouldn't say he drives one more than the other," said Fulbrook, a community activist who says he keeps a watch for problems in the neighborhood.

Fulbrook said some Camden residents provide out-of-town addresses to obtain "cheaper auto rates." He said he pays $1,900 a year to insure his 17-year-old Chevy Geo, and that doesn't include collision coverage.

Fulbrook said Leonard did the right thing by correcting his documents after he was stopped in Gloucester City on Feb. 28.

"If you are voting at one address, you should probably have your driver's license and auto registration at that same address. Otherwise it looks like you are trying to save money with some degree of deception. . . . Elected officials should be held to the same or higher standard."

Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit that lobbies for insurance companies and investigates fraud, said when an applicant misrepresents his address to get a lower rate, he is committing a fraud known as "rate evasion."

Scafidi said offenders may face prison or fines if convicted. But he said prosecutors normally do not pursue a case unless there is sufficient proof of intentional fraud.

Former New Jersey Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, who tapped Leonard as his chief of staff, had a similar problem with his driver's license and insurance.

When the Democrat ran for reelection in 1995, his Republican opponents accused him of living outside the district he represented, in violation of a residency law.

Roberts said his primary home was in Cooper-Grant in Camden - within the district he represented - and he had a second home in Sea Isle City.

After being asked to produce copies of his tax returns and car insurance policy, Roberts admitted his driver's license and policy listed his Sea Isle address. He then got his documents in order.


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

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