New York City Councilman Ruben Wills was arrested Wednesday morning by investigators from the state attorney general’s office and has been charged with the alleged misuse of taxpayer funds, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.
The southeast Queens democrat was arraigned on a 12-count indictment that includes charges of grand larceny, scheme to defraud, falsifying business records and offering a false instrument for filing. Wills surrendered to investigators alongside a relative, Jelani Mills, 30, of St. Albans, who was also charged in the probe. The two men were arraigned at Queens Criminal Court on Wednesday and Wills was released without bail. Records show Mills was being held at Riker’s Island after failing to post a $20,000 bond.
Wills is accused of using a nonprofit charity he ran as a slush fund for personal expenses, removing thousands in cash from the organization’s bank accounts and buying a $750 Louis Vutton handbag. He is also alleged to have used a shell company to steal more than $11,000 in matching funds through the city’s campaign finance board, according to the attorney general’s office.
“The indictment details a very calculated scheme to defraud New York taxpayers while lining the councilman’s own pockets,” New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at a news conference in Manhattan. "They're taking money that's supposed to help kids who are suffering from obesity and all of the medical problems that arise out of that and using it to buy things at Macy's and Nordstrom's. You know, this is about as low as you can get."
While running for his city council post, Wills enrolled in a Campaign Finance Board matching funds program that gave him six dollars for every dollar he raised. Prosecutors said Wills and Mills “created a fictitious company called ‘Micro Targeting’ to receive campaign funds.” Wills’ campaign cut a check to Micro Targeting – whose only known employee was Mills – for $11,500, prosecutors said.
Mills allegedly opened a bank account on Election Day and deposited the check. Once it cleared, he is alleged to have written back a check for nearly $7,000 to NY 4 Life, the nonprofit group Wills controlled, the attorney general said. Wills, they say, then went on a shopping spree with the charity’s money and made a series of cash withdrawals. Authorities said NY 4 Life received a $33,000 state grant to hold four programs in 2009 and 2010, but only held one luncheon that cost $14,000. Wills, according to the AG’s office, then wrote checks from the group to people who didn’t work there and spent money on personal purchases at department stores.
After his arraignment, Wills told reporters he would not resign from his City Council position and maintained his innocence. “I’m innocent,” he said. “I’m not resigning.” If convicted of the top charge, Wills could potentially face up to seven years in state prison. He has been stripped of his ability to allocate discretionary funds and has agreed to give up a seat as a committee chairman.