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Stephen Ruth pleads not guilty in red-light camera destruction

Stephen Ruth of Centereach speaks with reporters before

Stephen Ruth of Centereach speaks with reporters before his scheduled arraignment Friday, June 3, 2016, at Riverhead Criminal Court. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A Centereach man said Friday he’s prepared to go to jail for disabling red-light cameras at more than a dozen Suffolk intersections.

Stephen Ruth’s one-man crusade returned to a Riverhead courthouse, where he was arraigned on a new indictment and again publicly condemned the camera program as an unconstitutional money grab.

“The only reason the cameras are still up is because the legislators are being loyal to their contributors,” he said after pleading not guilty to a 17-count indictment.

Accused of vandalizing red-light cameras across Brookhaven Town, he is charged with second-degree criminal mischief, a felony. If convicted, he faces up to 7 years in prison.

Ruth removed the covers of circuit boxes operating the cameras on April 9 and April 10, and cut the wiring inside, rendering them inoperable, prosecutors said.

Cameras were damaged on Middle Country Road in Centereach and Coram, and on the William Floyd Parkway in Shirley. Prosecutors said Ruth also cut down a pole supporting a camera at Route 83 and Old Town Road in Coram on Jan. 18.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Mays said Ruth brazenly gave a television news interview and showed “live on camera the method which was used” to commit the offenses.

Ruth also gave two written confessions when he was arrested in April, Mays said in court.

Authorities estimate repair costs at $85,000.

Before his court appearance Friday, Ruth admitted tampering with the cameras, but insisted there wasn’t any lasting damage.

“I didn’t damage any cameras, I just cut a couple of wires,” he told News 12 Long Island. He also denied cutting down the camera pole.

Ruth’s attorney, Joseph Ferrante of Hauppauge, told reporters that his client “feels very strongly about what he is doing, and this country was based on civil disobedience.”

While Ruth is convinced red-light cameras cause crashes because the traffic signals have shorter yellow lights, county officials deny that.

Crashes involving injuries dipped 4.2 percent at red-light camera intersections countywide through 2014 compared to the period before 2010 when the program began, officials said. Total accidents decreased 3 percent through 2014.

“The red-light camera program is a public safety initiative,” said county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

Through 2014, cameras at 100 Suffolk intersections generated 444,008 tickets and $33 million in revenue, according to a county report.

Ruth has pending misdemeanor charges of third-degree criminal tampering and obstruction of government administration. Prosecutors said he used an extension pole last fall to push the lenses of cameras in Ronkonkoma away from traffic.

State Supreme Court Justice John Collins on Friday allowed Ruth to remain free on his previous bail of $3,000.

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