City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) was banned from dishing out funds to his district Monday amid claims by state investigators that he failed fully cooperate with a probe of a $33,000 state grant that has allegedly gone missing after it was given to a nonprofit headed by the council member.
In addition, Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) also removed Wills from the Council’s budget negotiating team, according to her spokesman.
“In light of troubling reports and court records evidencing Council Member Wills’ lack of cooperation with a state investigation, including his assertion of his Fifth Amendment rights, we have referred this matter to the Council’s Standards and Ethics Committee for a formal review,” said spokesman Jamie McShane.
Decisions about funding allocations to Wills’ district will be made by Quinn’s office and Queens delegation chair Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), McShane added.
Wills’ office declined to comment on the matter.
In April, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli filed a motion in Manhattan Supreme Court claiming Wills failed to comply with a subpoena requiring him to account for the money given to New York 4 Life.
State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) sponsored the $33,000 legislative member item in May 2008 while Wills was serving as her chief of staff.
Wills, acting as the nonprofit’s chairman, signed a contract with the state Office of Children and Family Services in March 2010 — eight months before he won a special election to replace the late Thomas White Jr. — stating the funds would be used for a single mothers’ breakfast, a single fathers’ luncheon and programs to adopt a commercial strip and help children with obesity.
New York 4 Life’s address is listed as 194-09 115th Drive in St. Albans, a residential building owned by one Willie Wills.
Six months later, the nonprofit received the entire $33,000 and deposited it in a bank account that Wills had sole control over, according to court records.
In early 2011, the Office of Children and Family Services sent the nonprofit two letters requesting an account for the funds, and when it received no response, the agency referred the matter to the attorney general’s office, documents show.
The AG had no luck, and after the office sent three letters demanding the $33,000 plus interest be repaid, Schneiderman teamed up with the comptroller’s office to launch an investigation into potential fraud.
In court documents, Assistant Attorney General Emily Bradford wrote that Wills had failed to respond to numerous attempts and instead “engaged in delaying tactics” that included cancelling meetings and failing to provide documentation.
On Feb. 10, 2012, the AG and the comptroller issued a joint subpoena ordering Wills to attend a hearing later that month.
When Wills showed up at the AG’s office in Manhattan the day before his scheduled hearing, the only documentation he could provide was an undated, unnumbered invoice for $980, court papers show.
Wills rescheduled and eventually appeared for his hearing March 20 and, after giving his name and pedigree information, he invoked the Fifth Amendment, according to court documents.
Less than an hour into the hearing, when Bradford was “in mid-sentence posing a question about [Wills’] use of state member item funds,” the councilman walked out of the hearing, according to court papers.
Wills attended an additional hearing in May, where he again invoked the Fifth Amendment, a source said. The investigation was ongoing.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.
©2012 Community News Group
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