City Councilman Ruben Wills’ seat has been empty a lot lately. The indicted Queens Councilman has not been to City Hall since December, and he has not been to his court appearances, either.
Wills is on medical leave, and that illness is the latest hiccup delaying his corruption trial.
It was nearly two years ago that the Queens Councilman was charged by the state attorney general with grand larceny and filing false business records. He is accused of stealing public tax dollars from a nonprofit group he founded.
“I am not resigning on charges,” Wills said in May 2014. “This is America, people. We are presumed innocent before you are proven guilty.”
It did not end there for Wills. Less than a year later, the attorney general brought more charges, this time in Manhattan criminal court, claiming Wills had not disclosed income he made from a private business on his city conflict of interest form.
“We don’t even understand what the charges are in this point in time, but what I can say is, I am innocent and I look forward to my day in court,” Wills said.
Both of those cases have stalled.
The attorney general’s office unusually and successfully removed Wills’ attorney from the Manhattan case last year, claiming the AG’s office wanted to call that attorney as a witness.
That so-called conflict issue has seeped into the Queens case. A judge must determine whether that attorney, Steve Zissou, can fairly serve in Queens after he was kicked off the case in Manhattan.
That decision cannot happen until Wills comes to court.
Wills’ attorney told us he has a serious medical issue with an uncertain prognosis. He could not comment any further.
Wills’ attendance record was not stellar prior to his illness. Since his original indictment in May of 2014, the councilman has missed 87 meetings or hearings at City Hall. That means he has made just 55 percent of them.
Wills has another court appearance scheduled this week. He is not expected to be there.
From Times Ledger (12.2.16):
Wills’ corruption trial likely to start soon
The criminal trial of Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) is expected to begin in January, according to the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The court is currently handling pre-trial motions in preparation for a trial that follows Wills’ 2014 arrest on charges of corruption.
In 2014 Wills and his relative, Jelani Mills, were indicted on charges of diverting public campaign funds and charitable grant money to their own personal accounts, the AG said. Wills was also accused of funneling money into a nonprofit that he subsequently pocketed, according to the indictment. Schneiderman said the more than $30,000 came from state funds allocated by former state Sen. Shirley Huntley, who was found guilty in 2013 of corruption for stealing money for shopping sprees at Roosevelt Field in Long Island from a charity she controlled. Wills worked as her aide before she was sentenced to a year in prison.
Schneiderman contends Wills steered the grant money into a nonprofit called New York 4 Life, which he supervised. Wills was accused by the attorney general of using some of the money for shopping trips, which included the purchase of a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag.
Wills’ office did not return a request for comment on this story.
In January Mills pleaded guilty to directing campaign funds marked for Wills’ unsuccessful 2009 City Council run into an account for Micro Targeting, which Mills said was a shell company set up by Wills.
The indictment accused Mills of submitting a check from Wills to Micro Targeting in the amount of $11,500 to the New York Campaign Finance Board. The attorney general’s office maintained Micro Targeting never did any work for Wills’ 2009 campaign and that Wills instead pocketed the funds.
After Wills’ May 2014 arrest, Schneiderman said the arrest sent “the message that elected office does not come with a blank check or a license to break the law.”
Wills allegedly signed a contract with the state Office of Children and Family Services in March 2010 and pledged that the funds Huntley allocated to New York 4 Life would be used for community services, but after the state requested Wills account for how the funds were used, he did not respond, according to the AG’s office.
Wills successfully won a special election to the City Council in November 2010. Wills denied any wrongdoing when he was arrested and accused Schneiderman of attempting to target prominent political rivals.
Amid pressure by the FBI, Huntley agreed to wear a wire and record meetings with nine other people, including Wills, in 2012. At the time, federal authorities claimed many of the nine individuals were also under investigation. Eventually, Huntley served a year and a day in prison. She was released in June 2014.
Judge Ira Margulis of the Queens Supreme Court will be presiding over the Wills case coming before the court. John Chiara, an assistant attorney general for the state attorney general’s office, is scheduled to head the prosecution.
From Queens Press (1.20.17):
BY TRONE DOWD
The Press of Southeast Queens has learned that the trial for Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) has been delayed once again.
According to the state Attorney General’s office, Wills, who was originally scheduled to appear in Queens County Court Jan. 9, is now scheduled to appear in early February due to a discrepancy in his choice of attorney.
“It’s going to be delayed for another two weeks, as his current attorney has been relieved due to a conflict of interest,” Doug Cohen of the attorney general’s office wrote in an e-mail.
As of 2 p.m. on Friday, the Press of Southeast Queens was unable to get details on the reported conflict of interest.
Wills was previously scheduled to appear in court as early as November 2016 for allegedly funneling taxpayer dollars into a non-profit organization he controlled. He was charged with third-degree grand larceny, first-degree scheme to defraud, first-degree falsification of business records and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. Wills faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
From Queens Press (5.26.17):
The ongoing saga of Councilman Ruben Wills’ (D-Jamaica) trial continues as a new date for the start of the court proceedings has been set.
As of May 31, it has been 1,121 days since Ruben Wills was arrested for allegedly pocketing taxpayer money..File Photo
According to a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the councilman is now set to appear in court on June 15, nearly six months after the trail was originally scheduled to begin.
This is not the first time that the trial has been delayed to a future date. In March, the PRESS of Southeast Queens reported that Judge Ira Margulis granted Wills and defense lawyer Steve Zissou time to select a new attorney to represent him in court after the trial had been delayed following a “conflict of interest” with his initial attorney.
In the weeks to follow, Wills missed a court date due to sickness, despite being spotted at a community rally in Richmond Hill for immigrant constituents just days before. Wills said that his doctor had recommended that he stay home and rest, and added that his defiance of the doctor’s orders was the reason why he was sick on the day that he was scheduled to appear in court.
The state attorney general’s office had previously expressed dismay regarding the numerous delays in the Wills case.
“Ruben Wills—who is facing trial in Queens and Manhattan for two alleged criminal schemes—has, for years, done everything he can to avoid confronting the charges against him,” Amy Spitalnick, press secretary for the attorney general, told the PRESS of Southeast Queens in March. “Elected office doesn’t give anyone license to break the law or avoid the consequences.”
Wills has been in trouble with the law since his arrest in May 2014 for allegedly funneling $30,000 in taxpayer funds into a non-profit organization that he controlled. He was charged with third-degree grand larceny, first-degree scheme to defraud, first-degree falsifying business records and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. If convicted, Wills faces up to seven years in prison.