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NYC Councilman Ruben Wills indicted in public corruption scheme

NEW YORK – The indictment of New York City Council Member Ruben Wills for allegedly pocketing both public campaign funds and charitable grant money for personal benefit was announced on Wednesday by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Wills and a member of his family that he enlisted as a co-conspirator have been indicted by a Queens grand jury after an investigation exposed the theft of approximately $30,000 and a subsequent attempt by the Councilman to cover their tracks. 

“The crimes Mr. Wills is accused of committing represent a shameful breach of the trust his constituents placed in him,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “New Yorkers are repeatedly asked to have faith in our leaders, and it appears that faith has been shattered once again. Every time my office arrests a corrupt public official, it sends the message that elected office does not come with a blank check or a license to break the law.”

"The Comptroller's Office joint task force with the Attorney General has uncovered another apparent example of disgraceful behavior," State Comptroller DiNapoli said. "Public funds intended to help people were allegedly used instead for shopping trips to high-end stores. Charges such as these are an insult to the Councilman’s constituents and to the taxpayers who paid the bills. I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his hard work in pursuing this matter and working with us to fight public corruption across the state.”

The documents made public today detail a calculated scheme to defraud New York taxpayers while lining the Councilman’s own pockets. Wills is accused of stealing from two government agencies: the New York City Campaign Finance Board (“CFB”) and the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (“OCFS”). 

In the 2009 campaign for the City Council seat he now holds, Wills received matching funds from the CFB. Rather than spending the funds on legitimate campaign expenditures as required by law, Wills allegedly had his campaign committee pay $11,500 to Micro Targeting, a shell company created for the purported translation and distribution of campaign literature. But Micro Targeting never provided those services. Rather, according to documents made public in court today, Councilman Wills had a relative, Jelani Mills, redirect the money from Micro Targeting to NY 4 Life, a non-profit corporation Wills controlled, while falsely representing to the CFB that the money had been spent on qualified campaign expenditures. Wills then withdrew the money in the NY 4 Life bank account in a series of cash withdrawals and personal purchases. For example, he used NY 4 Life funds in the purchase of a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag he bought at Macy’s.

According to today’s court filings, NY 4 Life figured prominently in the theft from OCFS, as well. This part of the scheme involved $33,000 in state funds provided to NY 4 Life via a grant earmarked by former State Senator Shirley Huntley while Wills was serving as Huntley’s chief of staff. To obtain that money, NY 4 Life signed a contract with OCFS, promising to conduct four public service projects.  Instead, NY 4 Life allegedly conducted just one program that cost approximately $14,000, and Wills kept the remaining $19,000 in grant funds and used it for both political and personal expenses, including purchases at Nordstrom’s and Century 21 department stores.  In addition, he made large cash withdrawals from the NY 4 Life account and used grant funds to issue checks to individuals who did little or no work related to the OCFS contract. Wills then concealed the theft by falsely identifying certain expenditures as relating to OCFS programs, which NY 4 Life had not conducted, and refused to account for the missing money, according to today’s allegations.

The indictment charges Ruben Wills with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. If convicted of the top charge of Grand Larceny, he faces a maximum of seven years in prison. The same indictment charges Jelani Mills with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree. If convicted of the Grand Larceny charge, he faces at least two years in prison and a maximum of seven years.