Former Councilman Ruben Wills has joined the long list of recent elected officials in Queens convicted of violating the public trust for his own profit.
On July 20, a jury convicted Wills of five counts including scheme to defraud, grand larceny and filing a false instrument for embezzling $30,000 in campaign funds and state grants, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced. Under state law, Wills — who was seeking re-election this November — was expelled from office immediately upon his conviction.
“Ruben Wills’ crimes were a shameful violation of the public trust. Now, after a conviction by a jury of his peers, Ruben Wills will face the consequences,” said Schneiderman, whose office led the prosecution. “Ruben Wills stole taxpayer dollars to buy fancy purses and clothes for himself and his friends. New Yorkers deserved better. Today’s conviction is another important step in our efforts to clean up New York politics and give voters the representation they deserve.”
According to the charges, Wills used $11,500 in campaign funds he received from the city for his 2009 City Council run to pay Micro Targeting, a company which purportedly translated and distributed campaign material. An investigation conducted by Schneiderman’s office and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that Micro Targeting received no such payment, and that the funds were instead directed to NY 4 Life, a nonprofit group that Wills ran.
A review of financial records revealed that Wills had withdrawn the funds to make a number of personal purchases, including a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag from a Macy’s department store.
Law enforcement agents said that Wills was also found to have used nearly two-thirds of a $33,000 state grant that NY 4 Life received for various personal expenses and his campaign. That grant had been previously secured by former state Senator Shirley Huntley while Wills was her chief of staff; Huntley herself would be forced out of office after pleading guilty to her own embezzlement scheme.
Though the grant required that NY 4 Life hold four public service projects, witnesses at trial testified that the nonprofit group held just one such event. Wills used $21,000 of the grant funding for personal expenditures, which included purchases from Nordstrom department store and The Home Depot, and to pay his political campaign workers.
Wills is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 10; he could be ordered to serve up to seven years behind bars.
The conviction now leaves the 28th Council District that Wills formerly represented without a voice at City Hall. In fact, any reference to Wills was removed from the City Council website moments after the verdict was announced. The district includes parts of Jamaica, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Rochdale, Rochdale Village, South Ozone Park, South Richmond Hill, Springfield Gardens, St. Albans and John F. Kennedy Airport.
The district office located at 95-26 Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica (phone 718-206-2068) remains in operation for constituents. The office now operates under the direction of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Wills had been slated to face two challengers in the Democratic primary: community activist Richard David and attorney Hettie Powell. The primary is Sept. 12.