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Tampering

Stephen Ruth Jr. reached a plea deal for tampering with red light cameras, which will place him on probation for a year in lieu of prison time. Photo from Stephen Ruth Jr.

The merry adventures of Suffolk County’s “Red Light Robin Hood” continued last week as the Centereach resident who took matters into his own hands by tampering with red light cameras across county intersections struck a plea deal with prosecutors. The agreement reached will place him on interim probation for one year in lieu of any prison time.

Stephen Ruth Jr., who has been crusading against the county’s red light camera program since 2015 in an effort to “take the power back” by exposing what he considers government corruption and helping save Suffolk resident’s lives — for which he’s been called a domestic hero on social media — pleaded guilty in Riverhead Feb. 8 to a felony charge of criminal mischief.

Red light cameras along Route 25A, which is where some of the cameras were located that Stephen Ruth Jr. tampered with. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Since the county first installed red light cameras at busy intersections in 2010, which snap flashing photos of cars that run a red light or don’t come to a complete stop before turning right on red, they’ve been widely opposed across the county.

Ruth, who’s become the boastful face of the opposition — as evidenced by his smiley mug shot after first tampering with the devices in 2015 —has consistently called for the program’s repeal before the Suffolk County Legislature. He said the cameras and shortened yellow lights, “shortened to cause red light running for a profit,” are responsible for fatalities and accidents on the roads, have been illegally constructed without an engineer signing off on them, and are nothing more than a Suffolk County “money grab.”

“I was willing to go to jail from the beginning because I’m sticking up on behalf of those people who don’t have a voice anymore,” Ruth said. “These cameras are completely illegal and the [county] is not allowed to collect any money off them whatsoever … I knew this was going on and made my own news.”

Under the plea deal, Attorney David Raimondo said if Ruth successfully completes his probation, the felony plea will be dropped to a misdemeanor.

Stephen Ruth Jr.’s mug shot. File photo from SCPD

The 44-year-old real estate salesman may also have to pay up to $85,000 in restitution for all the cameras and equipment he’d left inoperable — a charge that will be challenged during a restitution hearing in April. Raimondo said he and his client will fight because “we believe that the entire red light camera system program is illegal and every single ticket issued from day one is a nullity.”

In the wake of the court ruling, Raimondo acknowledged that it was a good plea.

“This is something the county has to atone for and will atone for in civil litigation … it is not Stephen’s or his family’s cross to bear,” Raimondo said. “Why should Stephen sacrifice his personal freedom for what I think is nothing more than enterprise corruption?”

As Ruth has always worn his criminal tampering and obstruction of governmental administration as a badge of honor — even proudly demonstrating on his YouTube channel how he uses a painter’s extension rod to reach high-positioned red light cameras to turn its lens away from the road — Raimondo applauded his client for always taking responsibility for what he’s done.

“While I absolutely don’t condone or approve of any form of violence or destruction of property, I admire Stephen’s willingness to bring attention to the public the failures in the engineering behind the camera and how it’s affecting the taxpayers as a penalty and tax,” he said. “I [especially] admire that Stephen brought to the public’s attention the fact that the yellow light times have been shortened by the engineers because unfortunately people have been seriously injured and perhaps killed as a result.”

Red light camera. File photo

Ruth, in calling for a full investigation into the camera program to prove it’s an illegal operation, also wants to spotlight that the county continues to delete videos of any and all accidents that take place at intersections.

James Emanuel, a retired Suffolk County police officer, has dedicated himself to researching and testifying against the program, and is one of Ruth’s avid supporters.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of police officers who privately are a big fan of what he did,” Emanuel said. “You get to the point where you have to push back against the system; you just don’t have a choice. The guy saw a danger and his attitude was, ‘I’m gonna push back.’ He turned himself in every single time and he didn’t have to do that.”

In regards to Ruth’s plea deal, he said the county wants to prevent the program from being put on trial.

“There are thousands of infuriated people,” he said. “How would they find a jury of 12 people that wouldn’t find Stephen not guilty?”

Suffolk County Leg. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said she understands Ruth’s strong feelings and acknowledges that red light cameras, although useful in some intersections, are overused and costly.

“I think what Ruth thought he was doing was making a statement, and he clearly did make a statement,” she said. “But you have to stay within the parameters of the law to make a statement that’s not going to get you in big trouble.”

Stephen Ruth mugshot from SCPD

Police say a man who was previously arrested for tampering with four of Suffolk County’s red light cameras has struck again, this time damaging 19 of them.

The county installed red light cameras at numerous busy intersections in 2010. The cameras snap photos of cars whose drivers have run a red light or did not come to a full stop before turning right on red, and the information captured is used to generate traffic tickets that are sent to the owners.

Signs alert approaching drivers at every intersection where there is a camera.

Centereach resident Stephen Ruth was first cuffed in August for allegedly using a pole to reach several red light cameras in Ronkonkoma and turn their lenses away from the road and toward the sky. He was charged with criminal tampering and obstructing governmental administration. On Tuesday afternoon, the Suffolk County Police Department announced detectives had once again arrested Ruth, this time for allegedly tampering with 19 of the cameras throughout the county.

Related: Police arrest man who pushed away red light cameras on video

Police said Ruth “cut wires and manipulated equipment” on 18 of those cameras between April 9 and 10. The 19th camera incident in question dates back to Jan. 18, police said, when Ruth allegedly cut down a camera pole at the intersection of County Road 83 and Old Town Road in Coram.

According to a police estimate, the incidents caused at least $25,000 of damage.

Ruth, 43, has been charged with two felony counts of second-degree criminal mischief. Hauppauge-based attorneys William J. Keahon and Craig Fleischer are representing him on those charges but are not commenting on the case, according to their law office.

Ruth’s arrest comes about a week after another man was arrested for allegedly tampering with red light cameras. Bryan Valentine, of St. James, has been charged with two counts of second-degree criminal tampering after police said the 26-year-old placed plastic bags over red light cameras at the signal in the Main Street/Landing Avenue intersection in Smithtown.

Related: Man covered up red light cameras

Attorney information for Valentine was not available.

In interviews Ruth — whom his supporters have dubbed the “Red Light Robin Hood” — has stood behind his actions. He has received praise from people who oppose the county’s red light camera program and say it is simply a money grab, as the county receives much revenue from the tickets generated.

File photo

A man was arrested on two counts of criminal tampering on Friday after he allegedly placed plastic bags over red light cameras at a busy Smithtown intersection.

The bags went on cameras at the signal at Main Street and Landing Avenue around 5:30 p.m. that day, the Suffolk County Police Department said, and a passing motorist called 911 to report the man who was covering them.

The cameras, set up through a county program, take pictures of vehicles that run through red lights or don’t stop completely before turning right on red, and the license plate numbers captured in the photos are used to generate traffic tickets.

Police used the suspect’s description from the 911 caller on Friday and later located St. James resident Bryan Valentine nearby. The 26-year-old was charged with two counts of second-degree criminal tampering.

Attorney information for Valentine was not immediately available Monday.

Stephen Ruth mugshot from the SCPD
Stephen Ruth mugshot from the SCPD

The suspect is not the first police have arrested for allegedly tampering with red light cameras. In August, police collared Centereach resident Stephen Ruth, after authorities said he used a pole to reach several red light cameras in Ronkonkoma and turn their lenses away from the road and toward the sky. He was charged with criminal tampering and obstructing governmental administration.

In interviews Ruth has stood behind his actions, and he has received praise from people who oppose the county’s red light camera program and say it is simply a money grab, as the county receives much revenue from the tickets generated.

Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen patches a pothole in the Town of Smithtown as another highway department staffer looks on. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony charges accusing him of tampering with public records for a town paving project, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said.

Jorgensen, 63, of St. James, was directed to appear in First District Court in Central Islip for his arraignment, where he faced several charges, including tampering with public records, falsifying business records, filing false records, official misconduct and grand larceny, relating to incidents dating back to Nov. 18, 2014.

The district attorney alleged that Jorgensen directed a highway foreman to alter road construction reports to conceal that he had approved a contractor, Suffolk Asphalt Corporation of Selden, to pave at least eight Smithtown streets in freezing temperatures in November. The altered records misrepresented the weather conditions during the repaving work, Spota said.

Jorgensen’s misdemeanor grand larceny charge also accused him of stealing a public work order for the improper repaving and taking the official document home. District attorney detectives found the records in Jorgensen’s Hope Place residence, under his bed, Spota said.

“State department of transportation construction standards dictate asphalt must not be applied to a road surface in freezing temperatures and, in fact, the town’s own engineer has said repaving in freezing weather would result in the asphalt falling apart,” Spota said. “The repaving of a residential street doesn’t happen that often and when it does, residents are paying for a job done correctly, not a faulty repaving that will soon need pothole repair work.”

Both Jorgensen and Anthony M. La Pinta, a Hauppauge-based attorney representing him, did not return calls seeking comment.

Jorgensen has authority over 142 employees with a $30 million annual operating budget to pay for snow removal and the paving, drainage and maintenance of roughly 450 miles of roads and curbs in the town. He was first elected in 2010 to serve as superintendent, but has worked in the department for 37 years in various capacities, including as a foreman. He left retirement in 2009 when he was elected superintendent and was re-elected in 2013.

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio declined to comment on the district attorney’s charges against the highway superintendent.

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