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Suffolk Legis. Sunderman pleads guilty to filing false financial disclosure form

Suffolk County Legis. Rudy Sunderman in county court

Suffolk County Legis. Rudy Sunderman in county court in Riverhead in July 2019.  Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County Legis. Rudy Sunderman, who is scheduled to resign his seat Sunday, pleaded guilty Friday to filing a false financial disclosure form to the county's ethics board in connection with an effort to maintain prohibited employment while working as a legislator, the district attorney's office announced.

Sunderman, 51, of Mastic, pleaded guilty to intentional failure to file an accurate financial disclosure statement, which is an unclassified misdemeanor and a violation of the Suffolk County Code of Ethics. He was sentenced to a conditional discharge and was fined $1,000. He waived his right to appeal.

"As a result of today’s guilty plea, the defendant is a convicted criminal who is disqualified from holding the position of trust that he betrayed through his actions," Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini said in a statement.

Sunderman, in a statement, said, "From the beginning of this case I have consistently maintained that this was a politically motivated attack aimed at derailing an otherwise unblemished public service career.

"What I plead guilty to is failing to answer two questions in a financial disclosure form which is … 31 pages long and contains over 100 questions. I failed to answer about my noncounty employment and my wife’s noncounty income; however, I did months earlier under oath when asked by the Board of Ethics those two questions, I answered them correctly and honestly."

Sunderman's attorney, Raymond Perini, of Islandia, repeated past claims that the prosecution was political because Sunderman is a Republican. Sini is a Democrat.

The district attorney's office responded in a statement: "Sunderman's latest attempt through counsel to evade responsibility for his criminal actions are baseless and are disproved by the public record in this case. This case was initiated by the Suffolk County Board of Ethics, referred to our office for investigation, and presented to a grand jury. … Today, he admitted in open court that he was guilty of criminal conduct in connection with his felonious scheme."

Sunderman, a legislator representing District 3 since 2018, was indicted in July 2019 on five counts of felony perjury and other charges.

According to prosecutors, the Suffolk County Board of Ethics on Dec. 6, 2017 — a month after Sunderman was elected — issued an opinion that Sunderman could not continue working for two separate fire districts while serving as a legislator.

A 2001 Suffolk law prohibits county elected officials from holding another paid position in most taxpayer-funded jobs.

Before Sunderman was elected legislator, he was paid a $175,000 annual salary as the district manager for the Centereach Fire District and made another $20,000 annually as the district secretary for the Center Moriches Fire District.

Sunderman, according to Suffolk prosecutors Marc Lindemann, Kevin Ward and Sean Buckley, attempted to circumvent the ethics board ruling by creating a shell company, Now That’s Fire Management Inc., in his wife’s name, and having the Centereach fire commissioners board pay his $10,000 monthly salary through the company. He ultimately received $60,000 in payments, prosecutors said.

Further, prosecutors said, Sunderman intentionally failed to disclose his outside employment as well as his wife’s income from the Centereach Fire District on a financial disclosure form for the 2018 reporting year.

Sunderman, who is scheduled to resign from the legislature Sunday, previously said his decision to resign was not connected to his criminal case, but because he wanted to take his "dream job" as deputy director of the Suffolk County Fire Academy.

Sunderman served as the Mastic Fire Department chief for 34 years.

A special election will be held within 90 days of the vacancy for the remainder of his term, which ends in December.

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