Louis Magazzu resigned Tuesday from the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders, a decision prompted by a scandal involving nude pictures of himself that he sent to a cyber girlfriend that ended up on the Internet.
Magazzu said in his resignation statement that his actions were not related to county government, and no county government equipment or services were involved in his relationship with the woman.
“Unfortunately, in my personal life, I did not always demonstrate the wisdom and balance that I expected from myself, and that the people of Cumberland County deserve and have every right to expect,” Magazzu wrote in the statement. “As a consequence, a woman who I have never met personally, but have corresponded with on the Internet for several years, has recently shared some photographs which she requested and that were intended only for her eyes.”
In the statement, Magazzu apologized to his family and county officials and residents.
His resignation came as his fellow freeholders were preparing to have a county ethics board investigate the incident. Cumberland County Freeholder Chairman William Whelan said he had already asked Magazzu, a fellow Democrat, in private to resign over the incident about three weeks ago.
The photos — displayed on www.magazzuwatch.com by a Millville resident opposed to what he called Magazzu’s “tyrannical” running of county government — are not related to county government operations.
Magazzu directed all inquiries about the incident to Haddon Heights, Camden County, attorney Rocco Cipparone.
Cipparone said Magazzu acknowledged beginning an online relationship with the woman last year, eventually sending her naked pictures of himself in mid- to late January. Cipparone said the pictures were sent at the woman’s request and there was never a physical relationship.
Cipparone said Magazzu is a “victim,” regardless of whether the incident involved an error in judgment.
“I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that he was victimized by the dissemination of photos when he had an expectation of privacy,” Cipparone said.
However, Whelan said that the conduct of elected officials is held to a higher standard than that of private citizens.
“I think Lou’s behavior is awful,” Whelan said.
The website describes itself as “a nonpartisan political watchdog group focused on tracking and reporting the abuses of power practiced by the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders.”
Website operator Carl Johnson, 49, said he first got the pictures from the woman — whose identity and location isn’t known — earlier this year. He said the woman apparently wanted to end the relationship with Magazzu and asked numerous questions about Magazzu, including if Magazzu is married.
On the website, Johnson, a painter and web designer, first posted a waist-down photo of Magazzu on July 7. Johnson added another mostly nude photo, apparently taken in a mirror, on July 8, and a topless photo on July 19. Magazzu’s genitals were digitally covered in each image.
The photos were republished repeatedly, with Johnson seeming to taunt Magazzu, writing on July 25, “I made sure to tag all images properly to ensure that Google indexed them — we want to be sure that when people ‘Google’ Lou they get the ‘whole picture!’”
Johnson said in an interview Tuesday that while Magazzu’s actions regarding the photographs aren’t government-related, Magazzu’s public position means he loses privacy rights.
Magazzu disagrees and had Cipparone demand that Johnson remove the photos. The demand was contained in a letter sent to an attorney who Cipparone apparently thought was representing Johnson. The letter eventually made its way to Johnson.
Cipparone states in the letter that Magazzu “remains harmed by the past and continued posting and other dissemination of photographs and materials,” adding that he believes releasing the photos publicly violates criminal statutes.
Johnson said the photos will remain on the website, even though he acknowledges they are embarrassing to Magazzu’s family.
Cipparone said Magazzu and his wife, Carmele, separated more than two years ago and are currently going through divorce proceedings. Magazzu’s biography on his Cumberland County freeholder website states that he has five children.
The 53-year-old Magazzu has been a political force in Cumberland County for many years, often ruffling feathers along the way. Even some of his own party members, whom he led from 2002 until earlier this year, have complained about what they called his autocratic style.
Magazzu’s resignation now creates an even bigger battle for control of the freeholder board: Democrats held a 7-0 majority on the panel just a few years ago. Magazzu’s departure leaves the panel with three Democrats and three Republicans.
County Democrats have 30 days from the official acceptance of Maggazu’s resignation to give the freeholders three people from which to pick a replacement. County Democrats will make the final decision if the freeholder board can’t agree on a final selection.
The new freeholder will serve the rest of the year. County residents will then vote in November on someone to fill the end of Magazzu’s term, which expires at the end of 2012.
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