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Centereach man pleads not guilty to tampering with red-light cameras

Stephen Ruth, 42, of Centereach, pleaded not guilty

Stephen Ruth, 42, of Centereach, pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of tampering with red-light cameras during his arraignment at First District Court in Central Islip on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. Photo Credit: James Carbone

A Centereach man known to some as the "Red Light Robin Hood" pleaded not guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor charges of tampering with red-light cameras in Ronkonkoma.

Stephen Ruth, 42, was immediately freed on $3,000 cash bail -- which Ruth said his 16-year-old son paid -- after his arraignment before Judge Steven A. Lotto in First District Court in Central Islip. Ruth's next court date is Jan. 6.

"I thought that the public was being robbed, stolen from," said Ruth, who wants curbs on the camera program. "I thought that senior citizens and veterans were being preyed upon."

About a half-dozen people held up signs of support outside the courthouse. One supporter's sign said: "Red Light Robinhood HERO exposes Red Light LIE," with a drawing of a traffic signal.

Authorities arrested Ruth at his home and charged him in August with four acts of criminal tampering and four acts of obstruction of governmental administration. He was given a summons.

"I have every confidence in the case and I have every confidence that he's going to be vindicated," Ruth's attorney, William J. Keahon of Hauppauge, said Tuesday.

Suffolk police said the cameras are mounted in locations with high rates of crashes and that by tampering with them, Ruth jeopardized public safety. Police said he used an expandable pole to tilt cameras skyward, away from the intersections.

The tampering charges each are punishable by up to 3 months in jail, while the obstruction charges are each punishable by up to a year in jail.

Ruth, a real estate agent who also owns several rental properties, claims he had gathered evidence, which he posted on his Facebook page, that he says proves that at Route 25 and County Road 83, where there is a camera, the yellow left-hand turning signal lasts for three seconds, and at Route 25 and Boyle Road, where there is no camera, the yellow left-hand turning signal lasts for 5.5 seconds.

Justin Myers, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said yellow light times, which vary depending on the speed limit, are set by the county Department of Public Works based on state guidelines.

Officials said Ruth was cited for red-light-camera violations 10 times between December 2010 and June 2015, but he maintains he's been ticketed for not stopping long enough -- even when there are no approaching cars.

He said the camera system improperly tickets motorists who stop -- but for less than 3 seconds -- before making a right on red. State law does not specify how long a full stop should last.

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 added to the $50 tickets, according to the most recent statistics released by the county.

With William Murphy

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