NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Queens City Council member Ruben Wills was charged in connection with an ongoing political corruption probe, according to an indictment unsealed in Queens Criminal Court on Wednesday.
Wills was charged with a dozen crimes, including scheming to defraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records, according to the indictment. The 42-year-old Democrat did not enter a plea and was released without bail. Outside court, Wills said he is “presumed innocent.”
EXTRA: Read The Full Indictment
“This is America, people. You are presumed innocent until you are proved guilty,” he told reporters outside court. “I know because of where I come from and the color I am, it doesn’t usually work like that with you guys, but I’m presumed innocent.”
He added that he is not resigning from the council.
“I’m telling you I’m innocent. How many people have stood here before the cameras and said outright they are innocent? Not too many,” Wills said.
One of Wills’ relatives, Jelani Mills, a campaign worker, was also charged on four counts. Mills was being held on $20,000 bail.
Much of the indictment centers on missing state funds given to New York 4 Life, a nonprofit Wills founded in 2009.
The organization is described on the councilman’s website as “a nonprofit organization which has helped single mothers champion critical issues such as civic literacy and financial empowerment.”
Wills has been under investigation by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office in connection with tens of thousands in state dollars that went missing, including a $33,000 state grant to the nonprofit.
Wills was charged with falsifying several documents involving the nonprofit, including an $11,500 check, and used an unpaid invoice to fake other donations, according to the complaint.
Wills was accused of stealing more than $3,000 from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and using a dummy organization called Micro Targeting to move money, some of which he used to buy a $750 Louis Vuitton bag and for shopping sprees at Nordstrom, Macy’s and Century 21, according to authorities.
“I think that stealing money that’s supposed to go to help poor children and families is pretty despicable,” Schneiderman said. “This is about as low as you can get.”
Schneiderman said that Wills’ actions “constitute a stunning violation of the faith that he asked voters to place in him.”
“This undermines public confidence in the system. This discourages people from voting. This breaks down the contact between the public and officials who swear to represent the public,” Schneiderman told reporters, including CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.
“The crimes Mr. Wills is accused of committing represent a shameful breach of the trust his constituents placed in him,” he added. “New Yorkers are repeatedly asked to have faith in our leaders and it appears that faith has been shattered once again.”
Wills’ arrest is connected to the ongoing probe into State Sen. Shirley Huntley, a longtime powerbroker in the Democratic party in Queens. Wills, who was arrested at his home early Wednesday, served two years as her chief of staff.
Huntley is a central figure in a wide-ranging corruption investigation and was under investigation for misusing public funds when she decided to cooperate with federal investigators.
She invited several Senate Democrats and Democratic council members to visit her at her home in Queens. Unbeknownst to her guests, she recorded the conversations.
Two of her guests were former Senate Democratic leaders, Malcolm Smith of Queens and John Sampson of Brooklyn, who were both later indicted.
Wills, also a guest of Huntley, had his conversation recorded as well. At the time, his lawyer said he was not the subject of investigation.
Huntley was sentenced in 2013 to a year and a day in prison after she pleaded guilty to embezzling nearly $88,000 from a state-funded nonprofit she controlled.
Wills represents District 28 in Queens and was elected to City Council in 2010 by a mere 626 votes.
He was the chairman of the subcommittee on drug abuse and has agreed to give up the chairmanship, according to a spokesman with the New York City Council office.
He will also lose his privileges to earmark money for pet projects in his district; instead, it will be doled out by the Queens delegation chairman and the City Council speaker’s office.
“These accusations are extremely troubling and will be taken seriously,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito during a news conference at City Hall. “Days like today are never good days for the institution.”
She said it would be premature to call for Wills’ resignation, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported. However, she did say the ethics committee would hold a hearing.
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