City Councilman Ruben Wills of Queens was charged in an indictment Wednesday with stealing about $30,000 intended for a political campaign and a charitable group -- using some of it to shop at Nordstrom, Century 21 and Macy's, where he allegedly bought a $750 Louis Vuitton bag.
Wills is accused of bilking the city and the state by siphoning matching campaign funds for his 2009 City Council race and, separately, state grant money directed to a nonprofit he founded.
He denied the charges.
Wills, 42, of Jamaica, Queens, faces a dozen counts of corruption, including scheming to defraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records, according to State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Wills' cousin, Jelani Mills, 30, of St. Albans, Queens, also was indicted.
Funds flagged for Wills' nonprofit, NY 4 Life, were meant for programs such as one battling childhood obesity but instead personally benefitted Wills, Schneiderman said at a Manhattan news conference.
"Stealing money that's supposed to go to help poor children and families is pretty despicable," Schneiderman said. "They're taking money that's supposed to help kids who are suffering from obesity and all of the medical problems that arise out of that and using it to buy things at Macy's and Nordstrom's. You know, this is about as low as you can get."
Wills, a Democrat who has represented Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village and surrounding neighborhoods as a councilman since 2011, maintained his innocence as he left an arraignment at Queens Criminal Court. He said he has no plans to resign.
"I'm telling you I'm innocent. How many people have stood here before the cameras and said outright that they're innocent?" Wills told reporters. He added that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. "This is America, people."
Wills entered a plea of not guilty and was freed without being asked to post bail.
Mills, a cousin by marriage, was arraigned on lesser charges and held on $20,000 bail, in part because he has a criminal history. His attorney said she expects him to be exonerated.
Wills is accused of stealing $11,500 in public campaign matching funds and $19,000 from a state grant for NY 4 Life.
The campaign funds were paid to a Mills-created shell company that was supposed to translate and distribute campaign literature, but never did, Schneiderman's office said. The state funds were part of a so-called member-item grant arranged by then-State Sen. Shirley Huntley of Queens, who is currently serving a prison sentence for embezzling money from a nonprofit. Wills once served as her chief of staff.
While the case is pending, Wills will no longer have discretion over how to dole out member items to his district, the City Council speaker's office said. Queens delegation leader Mark Weprin and the speaker's office will take over that responsibility. Wills has agreed to give up chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Drug Abuse.
"The City Council takes these troubling allegations . . . very seriously and will be reviewing them thoroughly," Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in a statement.