A sobbing former Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) was sentenced to two to six years in prison Thursday in Queens Supreme Court for stealing $33,000 in public funds after being convicted in an 11-day trial.
Before being sentenced, Wills insisted he was innocent and all he had ever wanted to do was serve his community and be an example to the inner-city youth whom he served as a councilman. He started to break down and his two younger sisters and longtime supporters began to cry as well
In addition to the prison term, Supreme Court Judge Ira Margulis said Wills will have to pay $33,000 in restitution and a $5,000 fine for taking funds from the city’s Campaign Finance Board and the state’s Office of Children and Family Services for his own personal purchases. He automatically lost his post as a councilman with the sentencing.
Wills was found guilty by a jury July 20of five counts of grand larceny, filing a false instrument and scheming to defraud
He came to the sentencing dressed in gray sweats and a blue hoody instead of the usual sharp blue or gray suits he wore during the trial.
“I don’t believe I should be incarcerated, but that is totally up to you,” Wills told the judge. “I’ve given my entire life to my community and I want to continue to work for my community and help other young men.”
He also apologized to his wife, Marcia Thompson, for not spending enough time with her during his years of public service. Together the two raised a 7-year-old foster daughter, according to his lawyer, Kevin O’Donnell.
“Ruben Wills stole money meant to benefit the community he was sworn to serve” said Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in a statement. “Thanks to my investigators and auditors working with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Mr. Wills has been brought to justice.”
During the court session Margulis, prosecutors for the state and O’Donnell discussed the defense attorney’s appeal of the case, which he filed Wednesday, as Wills sat silently having his picture taken by three news photographs as eight court officers stood throughout the courtroom.
O’Donnell’s petition stipulated that Wills did not get a fair trial because Margulis “did not permit certain witnesses to testify,” according to the judge.
Margulis denied O’Donnell’s request on the grounds that the five witnesses the lawyer chose could not prove where the money in question came from for an event Wills held. The judge also said he lengthened the trial time by a day in order for the defense attorney to use a witness who flew in from Alaska and then was not called to the stand by O’Donnell.
O’Donnell later argued Wills should have community service instead of a prison term and that the former councilman could better serve the public that way rather than being behind bars. He also mentioned the outpouring of letters supporting Wills from community members, church members and state Sen. Leroy Comrie, a former employer of Wills.
The state attorney general pressed for a two- to six-year incarceration and asked for restitution for both the city and the state as well as fines for the act of stealing from both organizations.
Margulis was not moved by Wills’ tears and supposed love for his community.
“There is no remorse in your actions,” Margulis said. “I have no doubt you’ve done good things for your community. However, you essentially stole from them because they are taxpayers and you stole taxpayers’ money.”
Wills, who appeared shocked, was later cuffed by the court officers and escorted out of the courtroom.
“New Yorkers deserve elected officials whose priority is the needs of their constituents, not lining their own pockets,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “Instead of spending taxpayer money on projects to help his community, Ruben Wills betrayed the public trust by stealing tens of thousands for himself – and he’ll now pay the price.”
Outside of the court Wills’ younger sister, Leshelle Wills, did not waver in her support of her brother.
“In spite of all this we are proud of all the work he has done for the community,” Leshelle said. “He makes $100,000 a year. It doesn’t make sense he that he would steal $32,000.”
When asked about her sister-in-law who was not at the court, she said Wills’ wife “was not so good.”
O’Donnell plans on appealing the case again in a week.
But Wills’ legal problems are facing another chapter. He has been charged with failing to disclose financial dealings to the state’s Conflict of Interest Board. A Manhattan trial is pending.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose
©2017 Community News Group
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