Suffolk Legis. Rudy Sunderman Arrested in Ethics Probe

Rudy Sunderman
Suffolk County Legis. Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic), right, leaves court with his attorney Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Long Island Press photo)

Freshman Suffolk County Legis. Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic) was arrested Tuesday morning on perjury charges resulting from a county ethics law investigation, Suffolk prosecutors said.

A grand jury indicted Sunderman, a former Mastic Fire Department chief who is running for a second term as legislator this fall, on five felony counts of perjury and misdemeanor ethics charges. He pleaded not guilty to the charges before Judge Anthony Senft at county court in Riverhead. Senft ordered Sunderman released without bail.

“These alleged allegations are untrue and nothing but a political attack on my career,” said Sunderman, noting that he will continue to serve as a legislator. “I am demanding an immediate and speedy trial. I am innocent of all these charges and I will fight them vigorously.”

Prosecutors said that the 49-year-old lawmaker set up a shell corporation in his wife’s name so he could continue getting paid $10,000 monthly as a consultant for the Centereach Fire Department after the county Ethics Board told him he had to stop working as district manager for $175,000 annually in the fire district following his election in 2017. That’s because county law bars elected officials from holding paid positions with other government entities. He then allegedly lied under oath when investigators questioned him about the scheme, authorities said.

“This was a violation of the very laws that Legislator Sunderman has sworn to uphold,” Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini said. “These laws are in place to prevent potential conflicts of interest for lawmakers, prevent corruption, and protect the integrity of ethics investigations. We investigated this case carefully, comprehensively and objectively, we presented the evidence to a grand jury of Mr. Sunderman’s peers, and the grand jury voted to indict Mr. Sunderman.”

Ethics charges that he pleaded not guilty to include offering a false instrument for filing, violation of the prohibition on dual office-holding, violation of the prohibition against conflicts of interest, and intentional failure to file an accurate financial disclosure statement.

Sunderman won an open seat representing the third county legislative district of South Shore Suffolk that includes the Mastic-Shirley peninsula after his predecessor, Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), was term limited.

“I find this a travesty,” said Sunderman’s lawyer, Ray Perini. “Rudy Sunderman is a hero, not a criminal. We are being accused of what I call nitpicking.”

Sunderman faced the charges on the same day as the Suffolk County Legislature’s monthly general meeting for July, which he showed up to after his court appearance. He is a member of the GOP minority in the county legislature, where the Democrats have an 11-7 majority.

While his arrest is a political setback, it doesn’t necessarily negate his chances for re-election. Nassau County Legis. Carrie Solages (D-Elmont) was re-elected months after being arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend in 2017. Solages pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct last year and is running for re-election to his fifth this fall after fending off a Democratic primary opponent last month.

Daryl Edelstein is the Democratic nominee challenging Sunderman this fall. But Suffolk GOP Chairman Jesse Garcia stood by Sunderman.

“I am shocked that these baseless charges have been brought against a man, who for more than 32 years, has voluntarily run into fires to save the lives, homes and businesses of neighbors he does not even know,” Garcia said. “Rudy is a hero first responder who has always put the needs of others ahead of his own. I am confident that Rudy Sunderman, a three-time volunteer firefighter of the year, will be exonerated and found innocent.”

Sunderman is due back in court Aug. 13.