Wills charged with grand larceny

By Rich Bockmann

City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) was arrested early Wednesday morning and charged with grand larceny and fraud for allegedly stealing some $30,000 in state and city funds, authorities said.

Wills is accused of pocketing $19,000 from a $33,000 state grant earmarked by his former boss, ex-state Sen. Shirley Huntley, and $11,500 in public matching funds allocated to his 2009 Council campaign, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli announced Wednesday afternoon.

If convicted, Wills faces up to seven years in prison, the authorities said.

A relative of Wills’, Jelani Mills, was also arrested and charged with grand larceny and fraud for allegedly helping in the theft and cover-up of the city Campaign Finance Board monies.

Wills denied the allegations.

“How many people have stood here before the cameras and said, ‘I’m innocent’?” he said. “I am.”

“This is America, and here you’re innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “I know because of where I come from and the color I am, it doesn’t usually work like that with you guys,” he added. “But I am presumed innocent.”

According to the charges, Wills had his 2009 Council campaign direct $11,500 in city matching funds to Micro Targeting, which authorities described as a shell company made to look like it was translating and distributing campaign literature.

Instead, the candidate and Mills allegedly redirected the money to a nonprofit headed by Wills, NY 4 Life, and filed phony paperwork with the CFB to make it look like the funds were spent on legitimate campaign expenditures, authorities said.

Wills then allegedly withdrew the cash from the nonprofit’s bank account to make personal purchases, including a $750 Louis Vuitton bag from Macy’s, law enforcement officials said.

NY 4 Life also received a $33,000 grant from Huntley when Wills worked as chief of staff in her Senate office.

Wills is accused of using $19,000 from the grant for political and personal expenditures and covering up his tracks by filing false paperwork with the state.

The investigation into NY 4 Life came to light in April 2012, when Schneiderman and DiNapoli filed a joint motion in Manhattan Supreme Court claiming Wills made numerous attempts to stymie their probe into the nonprofit’s finances.

Court papers claimed Wills could provide only one undated and unnumbered invoice accounting for just how $980 of the $33,000 grant was spent. Wills later invoked his Fifth Amendment right when he was called in to testify about the nonprofit’s handling of the grant.

In response, then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn booted Wills from the budget negotiating team and prohibited him from doling out city funds to groups in his district. Wills was re-elected last year.

The arrest is just the latest in a long line of corruption cases in southeast Queens.

Huntley is currently in a federal re-entry facility in Brooklyn, nearing the end of a 366-day prison sentence after pleading guilty to embezzling public funds. In seeking leniency after her arrest, Huntley secretly recorded a number of elected officials in her home for the FBI, including Wills.

Authorities had been eyeing two nonprofits connected to Huntley since at least 2011, and following her arrest Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) was nabbed with several others in an alleged plot to rig the 2013 mayoral race.

Smith’s trial begins next month.

The FBI in late March raided the offices of state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) in connection with vouchers he submitted for per diem expenses in his travels to Albany.

Wills has a history of run-ins with the law dating back to before he was elected to office in a 2010 special election.

He has in the past been accused of failing to pay child support to an ex-girlfriend and stealing property from a Chinatown business he did contracting work for. He pleaded guilty to criminal mischief in the Chinatown case and has called the charges brought against him politically motivated.

Wills also made headlines by taking a swing at a campaign opponent during the Democratic primary for Council in 2009, but no charges were filed.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.