Wills maintains innocence and seat in the City Council
By Shane Miller
Queens Councilman Ruben Wills was arrested last week for allegedly misusing public funds in connection with a nonprofit he operated.
Wills, standing next to his attorney Christopher Renfroe, pled not guilty to charges of grand larceny charges and various other counts at his arraignment at Queens County Court on Wednesday, May 7.
Also arrested with Wills was a relative, Jelani Wills, who worked with the nonprofit.
“This is America, you are presumed innocent before you are proven guilty,” Wills told reporters outside the courthouse. “I am going with the presence of me being presumed innocent.”
Through the scuffle of reporters, Wills added, “I know because of where I come from and the color I am, that it doesn’t usually work like that with you guys,” he said to the cameras and microphones from the NYC press corps, adding again, “but I am presumed innocent.”
He added that with “full support across the City Council,” he will maintain his position representing the 28th District, and plans to hold a press conference to further, “address everyone’s concerns in the next two weeks.”
Wills has been under investigation by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman regarding tens of thousands of missing taxpayer dollars that were allocated to Wills' charity, New York 4 Life, which aimed to help single mothers. According to published reports, the money was part of a $33,000 state grant that went missing.
Wills was elected to the City Council in 2010 and represents Jamaica, Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park. He narrowly won reelection last year by the slim margin of 626 votes.
He previously served as chief of staff to State Senator Shirley Huntley, who allocated the state money. Huntley was recently sent to jail in connection with a similar nonprofit scam, but before she was sentenced, she cooperated with federal investigators by inviting several of her colleagues to her home and discretely recorded their conversations.
One of the people she invited was Wills, and shortly thereafter he became the target of a Schneiderman probe. Last year, he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer the attorney general's questions about the missing money.
Wills was arraigned in a Queens County courthouse Wednesday afternoon on grand larceny charges and various other counts. He was arrested with a relative, Jelani Wills, who was on the payroll of the nonprofit.
Wills will be barred from distributing City Council funds in his district. Instead, the money will be allocated by the Queens County delegation. He will also step down as chair of a subcommittee on drug abuse.
“The City Council takes these troubling allegations from the New York State attorney general very seriously and will be reviewing them thoroughly,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in a statement.