New York City Councilman Ruben Wills was arrested and charged with scheming to defraud two public agencies of more than $30,000 in a case following the guilty plea of his ex-boss, a former state lawmaker, to similar crimes.
Vowing to continue an effort to bring public corruption cases, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said today the charges against Wills, a Queens Democrat, “constitute a stunning violation of the faith he asked voters to place in him.”
“The indictment details a very calculating scheme to defraud New York taxpayers while lining the councilman’s own pockets,” Schneiderman said at a news conference.
Wills is accused of using a nonprofit he controlled, New York 4 Life Inc., along with a shell company called Micro Targeting, to direct as much as $11,500 in campaign funds to himself for personal use and purchases, including a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag, according to Schneiderman.
He is also accused of taking about $19,000 of a $33,000 state grant to the nonprofit that was intended to be used for public service projects under a contract with the state Office of Children and Family Services, Schneiderman said. A relative of Wills who worked for him, Jelani Mills, is accused of participating in the campaign fund scheme.
Both were charged in a 12-count indictment and pleaded not guilty today in state Supreme Court in Queens, prosecutors said. Wills is accused of scheming to defraud the state and the city Campaign Finance Board, grand larceny, offering a false instrument for filing, and falsifying business records.
The $33,000 grant was steered to New York 4 Life by Shirley Huntley, Wills’s boss when she was a state senator, the attorney general said. According to Wills’s council biography, the organization “has helped single mothers champion critical issues such as civic literacy and financial empowerment.”
Huntley was sentenced last year to a year and a day in prison after pleading guilty to conspiring to commit mail fraud and admitting the theft of $87,700 from an education nonprofit she founded.
Wills was Huntley’s chief of staff before being elected to the council in 2010. She is also as Democrat, as is Schneiderman.
Wills won’t receive any City Council funds to distribute as discretionary “member item” grants to nonprofit groups in his district, according to the council press office.
“The City Council takes these troubling allegations from the New York State Attorney General very seriously and will be reviewing them thoroughly,” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement.
Schneiderman said that since January 2012 his office has charged more than 40 people with corruption-related crimes.
A message left at Wills’s legislative office in Manhattan wasn’t immediately returned.
The case is People v. Wills, 605-2014, New York State Supreme Court, Queens County.