The corrosive culture of entitlement that allows public officials to believe they are above the law is thriving in Suffolk County.
Local legislator Rudy Sunderman is the latest example. He was indicted by a Suffolk grand jury on five felony perjury charges and four misdemeanor charges for blatantly disregarding county and state laws to prevent self-enrichment, and then lying about it when he got caught.
After the lawmaker’s arraignment last week in Riverhead, District Attorney Timothy Sini held a news conference to emphasize that Sunderman is accused of violating laws that “are in place to prevent potential conflicts of interest for lawmakers, prevent corruption and protect the integrity of ethics investigationscolleagues and staff gave him a standing ovation.
The hypocrisy is appalling.
The lawmaker, who represents the Third District on the South Shore, is a fixture in the local firefighting community. He has been an able legislator in his first term and was planning to seek reelection this fall. We have other advice:Resign immediately. No matter the outcome of his case, his actions have disgraced himself and the legislature.
Sunderman calls the indictment a “political attack” and “frivolous.”
It is neither.
He was advised in 2017 by Republican leaders that if he won the seat, he would have to give up his $175,000-a-year job as the Centereach Fire District manager and the additional $20,000 he collected as secretary to the Center Moriches Fire District.
When he was elected, Sunderman asked the Suffolk County Board of Ethics for a ruling on keeping his fire district jobs and the board issued an opinion that it would be a violation of a 2001 law that bars the holding of a paid position from another public entity. Sunderman said he would honor the decision and apparently satisfy himself with collecting the legislators’ salary of $102,639.
But the indictment charges that he quickly plotted to get around county law as well as a similar state law. Sunderman created the “Now That’s Fire Management” corporation with his wife as head. The same month he took his oath of office, the Centereach Fire Department began paying the corporation — with Sunderman signing the checks to it — $10,000 a month. This continued until June 2018 when a whistleblower filed a complaint with the ethics board, triggering a probe. Sunderman gave a sworn deposition in October 2018 declaring that he was an unpaid employee of the firm and denying he received any income from it. Yet, Sini has evidence that Sunderman used a debit card connected to the firm’s account for groceries and dance lessons for his children.
Despite shutting down the firm and being on notice about the ethics investigation, Sunderman filed a financial disclosure statement in 2019 failing to disclose the $60,000 in payments. The ethics board, including GOPmembers, unanimously voted to refer his case for prosecution.
Sunderman says he did nothing wrong, yet his indictment is another glimpse into an entrenched mindset of our political culture: flout the rules, skirt the line, grab as much as you can, and then yell political witch hunt when caught.
— The editorial board