City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) was arrested Wednesday morning in connection with a 12-count indictment charging him with stealing state and campaign funds and laying a false paper trail in an attempt to cover up the alleged thefts.
Wills has been charged with third-degree grand larceny, first-degree scheme to defraud, first-degree falsifying business records, and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing.
The state funds were from the Office of Children and Family Services.
Wills’ office could not be reached for comment. He proclaimed his innocence Wednesday in numerous published reports.
Jelani Mills, described as a family member, has been charged with third-degree grand larceny and first-degree falsifying business records.
Wills could face up to seven years in prison if convicted of the top charges, according to a joint statement issued by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. Schneiderman called Wills’ alleged actions a shameful breach of trust.
“New Yorkers are repeatedly asked to have faith in our leaders, and it appears that faith has been shattered once again,” he said.
“Public funds intended to help people were allegedly used instead for shopping trips to high-end stores,” DiNapoli said. “Charges such as these are an insult to the councilman’s constituents and to the taxpayers who paid the bills.”
The indictment claims that in 2009, Wills received matching funds from the city’s Campaign Finance Board.
It charges that rather than spend the money on legitimate campaign expenses, Wills paid $11,500 to a firm called Micro Targeting, ostensibly to obtain and distribute campaign literature.
The state alleges that Wills had Mills redirect the money from Micro Targeting to NY 4 Life, “a nonprofit corporation that Wills controlled.”
The money was then allegedly spent on cash withdrawals and personal purchases, such as a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag purchased at Macy’s.
The Schneiderman/DiNapoli statement claims “NY 4 Life figured prominently in the theft from OCFS as well.”
That part of the indictment centers on $33,000 in state funds secured for the group by former state Sen. Shirley Huntley while Wills was serving as Huntley’s chief of staff.
Huntley last year went to federal prison for stealing funds from her own nonprofit organizations.
The state claims that to obtain the Huntley grant, NY 4 Life signed a contract with OCFS promising to conduct four public service projects.
Only one was completed, at a cost of $14,000, with Wills allegedly pocketing some for personal and political expenses. The nonprofit also is accused of writing checks to people who did little or no work related to the OCFS contract.
“Wills then concealed the theft by falsifying expenditures,” Schneiderman claimed.
He also allegedly refused to account for the missing money, going so far as to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination with Schneiderman’s investigators back in 2012.
In a statement issued by her office on Wednesday, Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito (D-Manhattan) said the charges are being taken seriously and will be reviewed thoroughly.
A government source said Mark-Viverito had stripped Wills of any authority to spend discretionary funds in his district, a move taken by former Speaker Christine Quinn back in June 2012 following his Fifth Amendment stand with Schneiderman.
Mark-Viverito’s office did not respond to questions as to when or why she reinstated Wills’ authority to spend discretionary funds.
Back last September Wills and his then-campaign manager, in simultaneous phone calls to the Chronicle, denied that he had ever been stripped of authority over discretionary funds following an article printed in the paper before last year’s Democratic primary.
The Wills campaign subsequently did not respond to an email containing a copy of Quinn’s 2012 statement stripping him of authority.
Wills and six state senators also were taped by Huntley and the FBI in her home back in 2012 after she had agreed to cooperate with FBI investigations of political corruption in New York.
All people who were recorded were invited to her house either at the FBI’s request or Huntley’s suggestion.
Wills is only the latest in a recent stream of politicians from Southeast Queens, including Huntley, who find themselves in legal trouble.
State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) goes on trial in three weeks, along with former Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), on federal corruption charges. Assemblyman Bill Scarborough (D-Jamaica) last month had his home, offices and Albany hotel room raided by the FBI allegedly looking for abuse of per diem expense money.
In December 2012 the House Ethics Committee cleared U.S. Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-Queens and Nassau) of any impropriety in connection with an undisclosed $40,000 loan from Edul Ahmed. Ahmed in October 2012 pleaded guilty in a multimillion dollar mortgage scheme.