The A.G., the councilman and the case of the missing member item
Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman brought charges against State Senator Shirley Huntley, who is alleged to have steered state money toward a staffer and a family member who spent it on themselves.
Schneiderman isn’t done investigating, though: He has also been looking into the fate of an appropriation made by Huntley to a nonprofit affiliated with another former staffer, Councilman Ruben Wills of Queens.
Schneiderman’s office has been trying to obtain records indicating exactly how Wills spent a $33,000 directed by Huntley, his former boss, to a charity he runs called New York 4 Life.
Wills, elected to the Council in the fall of 2010, landed the member item while he was serving as Huntley’s chief of staff.
I first reported back in 2010 on questions about the nonprofit, which doesn’t have a website and whose only apparent source of funding was that member-item appropriation from Huntley.
Schneiderman’s office issued a motion back in April of this year to compel Wills to provide the information. Wills technically satisfied the motion by showing up in court. But he didn't provide the answer Schneiderman was looking for, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights.
The attorney general’s office continues to seek the information but, if the Manhattan Supreme Court records are indication, hasn’t filed any additional motions since April.
A spokesman for Schneiderman declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
The member item isn’t the only unsolved mystery involving Wills. The councilman also failed to report nearly $29,000 in income on his city-required financial disclosure form, which he got from a political consulting firm, Farmstone Consultants, which he ran from December 2009 through August 2010 at the same address as New York 4 Life, and which he shut down two weeks before he received the member-item money. (Wills was awarded the member item in 2008, but delayed accepting it until two years later until after he mounted a run for Congress.)
The consulting firm worked for three clients, including then-governor David Paterson’s quickly aborted 2010 re-election campaign.
A Wills spokeswoman acknowledged to me that the councilman failed to report the nearly $29,000 in income on his city-required financial disclosure form, but said that the disclosure statement had been amended, and the error had been unintentional.
“I am thankful that this matter was brought to my attention so that I could amend my disclosure statement as quickly as possible,” Wills added in a statement.
He previously said he would use the grant money to reimburse himself for previous out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the nonprofit, which was formed in 2006 to fight childhood obesity and financially empower residents in southeast Queens, according to documents filed by the charity. He incurred the expenses at the same time as he was running his for-profit consulting firm.
In the campaign finance records, the firm lists its addresses as Wills’ home and his former City Council campaign office—the two locations that Wills in 2010 told me had at various points been the addresses of New York 4 Life.
If the omission on Wills’ disclosure forms was found by the board to be “intentional,” that could result in penalties ranging from a misdemeanor charge, a maximum $10,000 fine and even removal from office, according to New York City ethics guidelines.
None of the money came into Wills’ consulting firm while he was simultaneously using the same address as his own campaign office for the City Council run.
In February of this year, Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli issued a joint subpoena seeking the nonprofit’s spending records, the Daily News reported in June, even as those offices were probing Wills’ former boss, Huntley.
Wills met with Schneidernman’s office, but brought along only one undated invoice for $980, Schneiderman’s office has said in court papers. He did not provide any further information.