Queens Councilman Ruben Wills maintained his innocence on Wednesday after being indicted on multiple corruption charges, including the theft of campaign finance funds and grant money awarded to a nonprofit he led.
"I'm telling you and my district that I'm innocent," he told reporters, adding that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. "This is America, people."
Wills, 42, was arraigned on 12 charges of corruption brought by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office. He did not enter a plea and was released without bail.
He is accused of stealing roughly $30,500 in city and state funds and using some of the money for shopping trips to Nordstrom, Century 21 and Macy's, where he bought a $750 Louis Vuitton handbag.
"This undermines public confidence in our system," Schneiderman said of the charges and corruption in politics. "This discourages people from voting."
In the 2009 campaign for the office he currently holds, Wills allegedly funneled $11,500 in campaign matching funds from the city into a shell company, Micro Targeting, which was controlled by a relative.
The relative, Jelani Mills, was named in four counts of the indictment, including grand larceny and falsifying business records.
That money was redirected to the bank account of a nonprofit controlled by Wills, NY 4 Life, according to Schneiderman's office. Using a NY 4 Life debit card, Wills allegedly made personal purchases, including the luxury bag.
In the second part of the alleged scheme, Wills is accused of stealing a portion of $33,000 in funds allocated to NY 4 Life from the state Office of Children and Family Services.
The funds were earmarked by State Sen. Shirley Huntley, currently serving a year in prison for an embezzlement scheme. Wills was Huntley's chief of staff for two years.
NY 4 Life promised to conduct four programs from December 2009 and November 2010. About $14,000 of that money was legally used for a luncheon to honor "single mothers." The rest, Schneiderman's office said, was used to make personal purchases and shopping at Nordstrom and Century 21.
"The City Council takes these troubling allegations from the New York State Attorney General very seriously and will be reviewing them thoroughly," Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement. "New Yorkers expect and deserve a government that is ethical and responsible and that is the standard we're seeking to uphold."
Wills no longer has control over the distribution of discretionary funding from the city, known as member items, to his district. The speaker's office and Queens delegation head will now have that responsibility. He has agreed to step down as chairmanship of the subcommittee on drug abuse.
The councilman, who represents parts of southeastern Queens, said he has no plans to resign.