State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the sentencing of former New York City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Queens) to 2 to 6 years in prison; Wills was also ordered to pay nearly $33,000 in restitution and a $5,000 fine.
The sentencing followed an eleven-day trial in July that resulted in a guilty verdict on five counts related to Will's theft of approximately $30,000 in public campaign funds and state grant money. The jury found Wills guilty of one count of a scheme to defraud in the 1st degree, two counts of grand larceny in the 3rd degree, and two counts of filing a false instrument in the 1st degree. Wills has since been expelled from the New York City Council.
"Ruben Wills stole money meant to benefit the community he was sworn to serve. Thanks to my investigators and auditors working with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Mr. Wills has been brought to justice," said State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. "We must have a zero tolerance for public corruption and we will continue to partner with law enforcement to root out fraud and protect the taxpayers."
"New Yorkers deserve elected officials whose priority is the needs of their constituents, not lining their own pockets. Instead of spending taxpayer money on projects to help his community, Ruben Wills betrayed the public trust by stealing tens of thousands for himself – and he'll now pay the price," said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "We will continue to ensure that public officials who act as though they're above the law are brought to justice."
In addition to serving 2 to 6 years in prison, Wills will pay $11,500 in restitution to the New York City Campaign Finance board and $21,374 to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). He will also pay a $5,000 fine.
The jury found that Wills used public matching funds from his 2009 campaign for City Council to pay $11,500 to Micro Targeting, a shell company purportedly created to translate and distribute campaign literature. Prosecutors proved at trial that Micro Targeting never provided any campaign services, and that the money was instead redirected to a non-profit corporation called NY 4 Life, which Wills controlled. Wills withdrew the money and made a series of personal purchases, including at Macy's, where he used a portion of the funds to purchase a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag.
Prosecutors also detailed how Wills used $21,000 in State grant funds for personal and political expenses.
The $21,000 was part of a $33,000 grant provided to NY 4 Life from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), earmarked by former State Senator Shirley Huntley while Wills was serving as Huntley's chief of staff. The grant stipulated that the money had to be used to conduct four public service projects. Yet witnesses at trial testified that NY 4 Life only held one event, while Wills used approximately $21,000 of the funds for personal and political expenses, including at Nordstrom and Home Depot. Wills also used a portion of the money to pay individuals who had carried out campaign work for his City Council race.
Judge Ira Margulis presided over the trial and sentencing.
Since 2011, Comptroller DiNapoli, through his "Operation Integrity" partnership with Attorney General Schneiderman, has brought charges against dozens of individuals implicated in public corruption schemes around the state – resulting in the return of over $11 million in restitution to taxpayers through these convictions.
The Comptroller's investigation was led by his Division of Investigations.
Assistant Attorneys General Travis Hill and John Chiara of the Public Integrity Bureau prosecuted the case. Legal Support Analyst Dillon Kraus provided important support. The Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Daniel G. Cort and Deputy Bureau Chief Stacy Aronowitz. The Attorney General's investigation was conducted by Investigator Angel LaPorte under the supervision of Deputy Chief John McManus. The Investigations Bureau is led by Chief Dominick Zarrella. The Attorney General's Criminal Justice Division is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Jason Brown.
Since taking office in 2007, DiNapoli has committed to fighting public corruption and encourages the public to help fight fraud and abuse. New Yorkers can report allegations of fraud involving taxpayer money by calling the toll-free Fraud Hotline at 1-888-672-4555, by filing a complaint online at [email protected], or by mailing a complaint to: Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Investigations, 14th Floor, 110 State St., Albany, NY 12236.