NEW YORK (AP) - City Council member Ruben Wills was charged in connection with an ongoing New York City political corruption probe, according to an indictment unsealed in Queens Criminal Court on Wednesday.
Wills, a Democrat who was elected to in 2010 to represent southeastern Queens, was charged with a dozen crimes, including scheming to defraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records, according to the indictment.
He did not enter a plea and was released without bail.
“I’m telling you and my district that I’m innocent,” he told reporters outside court. “This is America, people. You are presumed innocent until you are proved guilty.”
Much of the indictment centers on missing state funds given to New York 4 Life, a nonprofit Wills founded in 2009. 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 has been under investigation by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office in connection with tens of thousands of state money that went missing, including a $33,000 state grant to the nonprofit.
Wills was charged with 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, according to authorities. One of Wills‘ relatives, Jelani Mills, a campaign worker who ran the dummy organization, was charged on four counts. Mills was being held on $20,000 bail and wasn’t available to comment.
Schneiderman, whose office conducted the investigation with State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, said that Wills‘ actions “constitute a stunning violation of the faith that he asked voters to place in him.”
“This and every public corruption arrest our office makes send a message that elective office does not come with a blank check and that no one is above the law,” Schneiderman said at a news conference at his Manhattan office.
Wills‘ arrest is connected to the ongoing probe into State Senate 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 councilmembers 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, Malcom 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.
Wills was elected to his seat by a mere 626 votes and was the chairman of the subcommittee on drug abuse. He has agreed to give up the chairmanship and will be investigated by the council’s ethics committee, 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.”
New York 4 Life is described on the councilman’s website is “a nonprofit organization which has helped single mothers champion critical issues such as civic literacy and financial empowerment.”
Associated Press writers Karen Matthews and Deepti Hajela in New York City and Michael Virtanen in Albany contributed to this report.