To ticket-weary motorists, he's the "Red Light Robin Hood." To police, he's just a criminal.
Stephen Ruth, the Centereach man accused of tampering with several red-light cameras in Ronkonkoma, brazenly posted a how-to video on YouTube and boasted about his civil disobedience on Facebook, police said.
In an interview Wednesday, Ruth, 42, freely admitted to tampering with the cameras to end a perceived money grab.
"It's abusive and it's got to stop," said Ruth, who said he is a landlord with several rental properties in the area. "My taxes have doubled . . . They keep taking more and more money from people. When is enough enough?"
As Ruth spoke to reporters on the side of the road in Centereach -- near one of the cameras he adjusted -- motorists honked and shouted encouragement. "You're the Red Light Robin Hood!" one man yelled. "Keep it up!"
Several visitors to Ruth's Facebook page yesterday applauded his actions, with one describing the cameras as "government spying."
Another posted: "I love you!"
Suffolk police say the cameras are mounted in locations with high rates of crashes and that by tampering with them, Ruth jeopardized public safety.
He is charged with four counts of third-degree criminal tampering and four counts of second-degree obstruction of governmental administration. Police said he used an expandable painter's pole to tilt cameras skyward, away from vehicles going through the intersections.
The tampering charges are each punishable by up to 3 months in jail, while the obstruction charges are each punishable by up to 1 year in jail.
"The primary reason for these red-light cameras is public safety," said Lt. Milagros Soto, commanding officer of the Sixth Precinct Crime Section. "They're not placed at these intersections arbitrarily. They're placed in locations that have high incidents of crashes. By him tampering with these cameras, not only did he commit a crime, but he also posed a potential danger to motorists."
Ruth said he knew he'd be arrested after his posts on social media, but felt he had to "take a stand."
He said the camera system improperly tickets motorists who stop -- but for less than 3 seconds -- before making a right on red. He hopes his arrest helps spur legislation that curbs red-light ticketing.
Officials said Ruth has been cited for red-light-camera violations 10 times between December 2010 and June 2015, but Ruth maintains that he's been ticketed for not stopping long enough -- even when there's no approaching cars.
Police said Ruth twice tampered with a camera in Ronkonkoma, at Ocean Avenue and the Long Island Expressway South Service Road -- on Friday and Monday.
Acting on anonymous tips, officers arrested Ruth at his home about 4 p.m. Tuesday. About 15 minutes earlier, he had boasted on Facebook about tampering that day with two cameras at Hawkins Avenue and the LIE South Service Road, also in Ronkonkoma, police said.
Ruth had also posted a video showing visitors to his page how to use a pole to render the cameras useless. The post had more than 230,000 views by about 8 a.m.
"I'm going to show you how easy it is to take the power back," he says in the video. "It doesn't take more than a minute to do this and the gratification . . . is huge."
After making a camera adjustment, he proclaims: "I just saved people about $10,000 today . . ."
Ruth is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges Oct. 27 in Suffolk District Court.
Newsday reported in 2014 that Suffolk has 189 cameras at 90 intersections. Revenue from the red-light-camera program jumped nearly 80 percent in 2013 to more than $17 million, as the county added new intersections to the program and a $30 fee to tickets, according to the most recent statistics released by the county.