BY TRONE DOWD
An unlikely witness in Councilman Ruben Wills’ (D-Jamaica) fraud trial regarding his alleged illegal use of city funds has raised new questions in the case.
According to the New York Daily News, Wills’ own goddaughter provided testimony regarding the councilman’s alleged misuse of funds provided by the city for a non-profit, New York 4 Life, that he created in 2006. LaGuardia Community College student Michelle Davis told Judge Ira Margulis Tuesday morning that she received a total of three checks—for a combined sum of $420. Two of the checks were from New York 4 Life’s account, including one indicating that she had been involved in a campaign regarding obesity.
Davis testified that she had never heard of the non-profit upon receiving the checks, having only earned one of those checks—for $155— for campaign work in 2009 during Wills’ unsuccessful run for city council.
A second individual—Shawn Garrick—made an appearance in court on Tuesday. Garrick was sent a letter stating that he was listed as the executive director of New York 4 Life and asked to account for missing state funds that were meant for the non-profit. Garrick told the court that he wasn’t even aware of his appointment to the board until receiving the request.
Tuesday’s testimony has resulted in a new hurdle to Wills’ reelection campaign as the incumbent prepares to face off against two Democratic challengers—Richmond Hill’s Richard David and Rochdale’s Hettie Powell—during September’s primary. Despite his legal troubles, Wills has not struggled to find support. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) told the PRESS of Southeast Queens last month that he still intended to endorse the councilman in his re-election bid.
Wills’ alleged offenses may ring a bell for Southeast Queens residents. In August 2012, Assemblywoman Shirley Huntley was arrested and found guilty of using money she directed into a non-profit she controlled for personal use. She served a year and one month in prison.
In 2013, state Sen. Malcolm Smith—a Democrat—was arrested for his attempts to secure a spot on the Republican ballot in the 2013 mayoral election by bribing Republican Councilman Dan Halloran. Smith is currently serving seven years in prison. And in 2014, state Sen. Bill Scarborough was arrested, indicted for using campaign funds for his own benefit and sentenced to 13 months in prison.
Wills, who once worked as Huntley’s chief of staff, found himself under investigation as a result of his ties to the assemblywoman. In 2014, the councilman was arrested for allegedly using more than $30,000 in state grants meant for his non-profit New York 4 Life to buy name-brand handbags, materials from Home Depot and other items. The councilman’s trial finally began last week after months of delays due to illness.
In 2015, Wills was also charged with misleading officials and not detailing additional income he had made from private businesses on conflict of interest paperwork. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.