Queens City Councilman Ruben Wills is the latest elected official to stand trial on corruption charges. In laying out their case Wednesday, prosecutors said he pocketed thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to use on clothing, meals, and even construction supplies. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
Even before he was first elected to the City Council, Ruben Wills had already begun a scheme to defraud taxpayers, prosecutors said, stealing $19,000 in state grant money awarded to his Queens non-profit, and $11,500 in public campaign finance funds.
At opening arguments Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Travis Hill said that for Wills, "stealing taxpayer funds was business as usual."
The trial is now finally underway after numerous delays, including Wills missing court appearances with an undisclosed illness.
He faces up to seven years in prison on six charges, including fraud and grand larceny, all of which he is vigorously contesting.
The attorney for Wills, Kevin O'Donnell, told jurors he "isn't a Harvard graduate."
"We're not talking about a lawyer here," O'Donnell said.
The argument is that Wills, unfamiliar with accounting practices, was careless with his finances, but that his non-profit did ultimately spend the amount earmarked and performed all services promised.
"I don't think they're going to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ruben actually intended to steal anything," O'Donnell said. "He didn't. It's just sloppy bookkeeping, that's all this is."
O'Donnell did not dispute that Wills made thousands of dollars in purchases at stores like Macy's, Nordstrom, and Toys"R"Us, buying cufflinks, Louis Vuitton merchandise, plus meals, gas, and building supplies at Home Depot.
Prosecutors from the state Attorney General's office, which brought the case, said that in addition to misusing public funds, Wills tried to cover it up by submitting false records to the state and city Campaign Finance Board.
Wills is also charged in a separate case in Manhattan related to a different set of allegedly falsified records. That case is pending.
Meanwhile, Wills — who was first elected to the City Council back in 2010 but has been largely absent from council business these last few years — intends to run for reelection this fall.