By Sadef Ali Kully
On a cold, late night in South Ozone Park, Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) helped fold and stack chairs after a town-hall meeting in a local church about issues within his constituency. The Queens church was a long way from the Manhattan Supreme Court, where Wills was arrested and arraigned that Tuesday morning, after being re-indicted by a grand jury on five counts of allegedly filing false documents in annual disclosure reports for public records between 2011 and 2013, according to the state attorney general.
In a large room, full of heavy coats and red cheeks seeking shelter from the cold, whispers and murmured comments by different attendees were heard in the back room of the meeting, “Wasn’t he arrested in the morning?” “Did you know he got arrested? “And that is supposed to be our elected representative!”
Wills serves Queens District 28, which covers Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park, Rochdale, and parts of Jamaica in the southeast part of Queens.
“I am innocent and I can’t wait to have my day in court with a jury of my peers,” said Wills, when asked by a reporter about his morning arrest while seated at table surrounded by a few of community members..
According to court documents, the indictment charged Wills with five counts related to the filing of a 2011 annual disclosure report, an amended 2011 annual disclosure report, a 2012 annual disclosure report, an amended 2012 annual disclosure report, and a 2013 annual disclosure report. In each of the filings, prosecutors contend he failed to disclose certain financial dealings.
If convicted, Wills faces up to 1 1/3 to four years in prison.
“The City Council takes these allegations from the attorney general and comptroller very seriously and we will be reviewing them,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) in a statement.
This was Wills’ second indictment in two years.
In 2014 he was arrested on corruption charges, which included conspiring to steal campaign funds and going on a luxury brand shopping spree with taxpayer money. He was also accused of taking $33,000 from member funds for a bogus charity. Those charges are pending.
After Wills’ 2014 arrest, the City Council took his committee chairmanship away and he can no longer allocate member items in the budget. The Queens Delegation chairman, Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and the speaker help to make sure district groups get funding.
The city’s annual disclosure law requires that some 8,500 city employees, elected officials, and candidates for office file annual reports on their financial affairs and outside positions and interests, as well as those of their spouses or domestic partner and dependent children.
The purpose of the annual disclosure law is to provide accountability by public servants to help ensure that there are no prohibited conflicts of interest between city employees’ official responsibilities and private interests, according to the city Conflicts of Interest Board.
“Submitting false documents to the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board is a serious crime,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “My office’s partnership with the comptroller is designed to combat corruption in the public sector, and we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the public trust is not undercut by public servants who are not truthful in their disclosures.”
Wills was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury after an investigation revealed his failure to truthfully disclose information as required by law.
“These alleged actions reveal a disdain for honest disclosure,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said. “My partnership with the attorney general in Operation Public Integrity will continue to expose corruption and hold wrongdoers accountable.”
Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4546.