A jury found New York City Council Member Ruben Wills guilty on five counts in a corruption trial.
Wills was accused of using $30,000 in taxpayer money to buy food, clothes and luxury items such as a Louis Vuitton handbag. He was found guilty on two counts of grand larceny, two counts of filing a false instrument and one count of a scheme to defraud. New York State Sen. James Sanders Jr. lamented a constituency represented by someone who had failed them.
“It is a sad day for the community. People’s faith in their elected officials has been shaken again. Never has there been a greater need for good, clean leadership,” said Sanders in a statement. “The election to fill this seat has become all the more important in light of this conviction. I hope the community will be able to put their trust in someone who can lead them forward with strength and dignity.”
The conviction automatically expels Wills from the City Council. It also concludes a three-year investigation begun by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman after money went missing from a Wills-run charity.
Meanwhile in his own defense, Wills issued a statement saying, “I have not lied to my community and I maintain my innocence. I will not apologize for stealing anything because I did not. The nonprofits that I started and funded for many years out of my own pocket have always been to enrich the community and not myself. Representing this community has been a dream come true for a kid from 40 projects and it has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I am asking for the prayers of the constituents, for my family and my friends throughout the appeals process because I am innocent. This witch hunt is my payback for not wearing a wire as the attorney general’s office had repeatedly requested that I do going back several years. I refused to wear a wire to ensnare innocent people. The truth will come to light.”
“Ruben Wills’ crimes were a shameful violation of the public trust. Now, after a conviction by a jury of his peers, Ruben Wills will face the consequences,” said Schneiderman in a statement. “Ruben Wills stole taxpayer dollars to buy fancy purses and clothes for himself and his friends. New Yorkers deserved better. Today’s conviction is another important step in our efforts to clean up New York politics and give voters the representation they deserve. I thank Comptroller DiNapoli and his staff for their continued and valuable partnership on Operation Integrity. My office will continue to hold accountable any public official who breaches the public trust and breaks the law.”
In 2014, former New York State Sen. Shirley Huntley was sentenced to a year in prison on corruption charges after taking money from a taxpayer-funded charity she ran. After being caught by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, she agreed to wear a wire during home conversations with other elected officials, including Wills.
Schneiderman and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli started Operation Integrity in 2011 with the purpose of catching officials in public corruption schemes. Wills’ arrest and eventual conviction was a part of that operation.
“Councilman Ruben Wills stole public money and abused his position of trust,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Thanks to the work of my staff and our partnership with Attorney General Schneiderman, we are targeting public corruption and holding public officials accountable for misuse of public resources.”
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said Wills was unfit to serve his position in the City Council.
“Ruben Wills betrayed the trust of all New Yorkers when he abused his position in the State Senate to steal thousands of dollars from the hardworking taxpayers of New York for his own selfish gain,” said Mark-Viverito in a statement. “Serving in elected office requires honesty and integrity and today’s conviction makes clear that Ruben Wills is unfit to be a member of the City Council. We thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his diligence in investigating and trying this case, and the jury for their service in bringing justice to New Yorkers.”