A Centereach real estate salesman who fashioned himself into Suffolk County’s “Red Light Robin Hood” pleaded guilty Wednesday to a felony charge of criminal mischief in Riverhead.
Stephen Ruth Jr., 44, has always cheerfully acknowledged that he cut wires in red light cameras the night of April 9, 2016, in 17 locations so that they wouldn’t work, and did so again in Suffolk County Court. District Attorney Thomas Spota watched in the courtroom to ensure the deal he helped broker went through.
Under the terms of the deal, Suffolk County Court Judge Timothy Mazzei agreed to sentence Ruth to a year on interim probation. If he’s successful in that year, Ruth will be allowed to withdraw his felony plea and instead plead guilty to a misdemeanor.
As part of the probation, Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Shalvey said Ruth should be required to pay about $85,000 in restitution for the cameras he damaged at intersections throughout Brookhaven Town. But defense attorney William Keahon of Hauppauge said any damage his client caused was negligible. Mazzei will hold a hearing in April to determine the amount.
As Ruth walked up to plead guilty, he told Spota, “Thank you, Mr. Spota.”
“You’re thanking me? For what?” Spota replied.
After the plea, Keahon told the judge that Ruth has always accepted responsibility for what he did. He was trying to save lives, Keahon said, because the cameras and shortened yellow lights increased accidents instead of prevented them.
County officials insist the cameras deter people from running red lights.
“It’s completely illegal, what they’re doing,” Ruth said afterward, referring to the county and its contractors for the cameras.
Ruth said the cameras are not certified by engineers. But for a program that is supposed to prevent accidents, he said it’s odd recordings of accidents that happen on camera are routinely deleted.
Keahon said Ruth felt compelled to act.
“He took steps that he felt were necessary to bring it to the public’s attention,” Keahon said.