Ruben Wills Defiant After Being Charged With Taking City Campaign Funds
QUEENS — City Councilman Ruben Wills, and a relative who worked for him, used a charity for single moms as a slush fund for personal expenses, including a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.
The southeastern Queens councilman also used a shell company to steal more than $11,000 in matching city campaign funds, according to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office.
He also used the money to fund shopping sprees to Nordstrom and Century 21, state prosecutors claim.
Wills, 42, who was elected in 2010 and represents Jamaica, was arraigned on charges of grand larceny, fraud, falsifying business records and check fraud, after turning himself into the 112th Precinct's stationhouse in Forest Hills, according to sources and court records.
“We cannot and we will not allow the people who have been given the trust of the public to take advantage of taxpayers and voters, and to try and line their pockets at the taxpayers’ expense,” Schneiderman said.
The councilman denied the charges brought in Queens Supreme Criminal Court by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
"I am not resigning. This is America, people. We are presumed innocent before being proven guilty," Wills said after being released without bail. "I know because of where I'm from and the color I am, it doesn't usually work like that with you guys, but I am presumed innocent."
"I'm telling you I'm innocent. We're going to fight these charges in court just like anybody else would. We will address everybody's concerns within the next two weeks," the councilman added.
Sources said he surrendered as part of a deal with the AG's office, but the details of the arrangement were not immediately clear. He also forfeited his chairmanship of the City Council's drug abuse subcommittee.
A relative of Wills, Jelani Mills, a 30-year-old St. Albans resident, was also arrested and charged with grand larceny and falsifying business records, according to the indictment. Mills, who prosecutors said pleaded guilty to insurance fraud in August 2008 and convicted on a disorderly conduct charge in March 2010, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mills was held on $20,000 bail.
Between May 2008 and January 2012, Mills and Wills stole about $30,500 in city and state money by using a non-profit he founded in 2006, New York 4 Life, which was ostensibly set up to host an "annual luncheon events honoring single mothers" and help them "champion critical issues such as civic literacy and financial empowerment," according to prosecutors and Wills' website.
If convicted on the grand larceny charge, Wills faces seven years behind bars, and Mills just two, prosecutors said.
While Wills was running for council in District 28, he enrolled in a Campaign Finance Board program that gave him six dollars for every one dollar he raised and eventually netted him $139,000, prosecutors said.
Wills' then took a large chunk of that money by funneling it through his campaign which paid a "shell company named 'Micro Targeting' $11,500 purportedly for the translation and distribution of campaign literature," prosecutors said.
Mills was the only employee of Micro Targeting, prosecutors said.
Mills then opened a Chase bank account on Nov. 2, 2009, election day, and deposited the check, prosecutors said. Once that cleared, he wrote a check for $6,800 back to New York 4 Life, which Wills put into the charity's bank account, prosecutors said.
Wills then used all of that money on a series of cash withdrawls and personal purchases with a charity debit card at Macy's to buy the Louis Vuitton bag, prosecutors said.
Then in August 2010, Wills requested a full advance of the $33,000 that had been earmarked for his New York 4 Life Charity by then-state Sen. Shirley Huntley, prosecutors said. Wills promised the state his charity would hold four programs between December 2009 and November 2010, but only ever held one which cost only $14,000, prosecutors said.
Wills then not only used some of the funds for shopping sprees at Nordstrom and Century 21, but wrote checks for people who didn't work for the charity or did so but for things entirely unrelated to the programs, prosecutors.
He hid all those cash movements by pretending they were for the charity programs he had promised, but never actually took place, prosecutors said.
Wills once worked as a chief of staff to Huntley, who lost her seat in 2012 after siphoning $87,000 from a nonprofit, Parents Information Network Inc., which claimed to use public funds to teach parents about city schools.
After her arrest, Huntley worked out a deal with feds in which she would record politicians she believed were involved in corruption. She lured politicians, including Wills, to her South Jamaica home by claiming she had been immobilized by a foot injury.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the allegations leveled at Wills, if true, betrayed the trust New Yorkers place in their government.
"The City Council takes these troubling allegations from the New York State Attorney General very seriously and will be reviewing them thoroughly. New Yorkers expect and deserve a government that is ethical and responsible and that is the standard we're seeking to uphold," the speaker said.
The AG said that Wednesday's indictment was part of an ongoing investigation into public corruption in Queens.
With reporting by Colby Hamilton, Trevor Kapp and Gustavo Solis.