Ruben Wills' 3-Ring Circus

Council Member Ruben Wills was back in the news this week when it turned out that he had allocated more than $30,000 in discretionary funds to the Young Leaders Institute, whose own leader, Van Holmes, was arrested for stealing money from the non-profit.  Wills, like Holmes a protégé and beneficiary of Shirley Huntley and her largesse, faces similar suspicions about a non-profit he himself founded, New Yorkers 4 Life, from which $30,000 has gone missing.

The FY 2012 budget records that Wills made a $28,000 allocation to YLI in 2011, his largest single discretionary line item. Wills’ campaign spokesperson, arguably splitting hairs, insists that this figure represents the combined disbursements of 2010 ($11,000) and 2011 ($17,000).  However, given Wills took office at the end of 2010, five months after the FY 2011 budget had been passed, it isn’t clear that there are any hairs to split anyway.

The spokesperson also explained that Ruben Wills is “committed to assisting the Attorney General to root out corruption in the City Council, and has not been charged with any crimes.”  When asked about reports that Wills had ducked meetings with the AG’s office about New Yorkers 4 Life, and even walked out of a meeting, the spokesperson answered, “the Council Member had several other meetings with the Attorney General.”

An odd item appears in CM Wills latest campaign filing: a sizeable contribution from his own defense attorney.  Steve Zissou, a noted Queens criminal defense lawyer, and Zissou’s associate Christopher Renfroe, each gave the Wills campaign $1,150 in the past month. Zissou’s other prominent clients include Christopher “Dudas” Coke, the drug kingpin whose 2010 arrest in Kingston by the Jamaican military resulted in more than 70 confirmed deaths, and drug-related murderer Richard “Buju” Gilliam.

There is no particular reason why a politician shouldn’t accept campaign money from his own defense attorney: the CFB manual says nothing about it.  It may make good sense from the attorney’s point of view, especially if re-election could lead to more business, but it seems strange.  Edward Wilford never contributed to Larry Seabrook’s campaigns, and Joseph Tacopina never gave money to Hiram Monserrate.  Miguel Martinez didn’t get any contributions from George Bellinger, and Shirley Huntley never got anything from Sally Butler.

On the other hand, Dan Halloran has taken contributions from his attorney Dennis Ring, who also used to be his chief of staff…maybe Halloran is the exception that proves the rule.

Ruben Wills ran into some trouble in mid-June when, according to the Post, he “saw a group of about 20 youngsters go into [Baisley Pond] park at about 12:15 p.m. and followed them because he thought they looked suspicious.”  One of the youths flashed a gun at the Council Member.

Given the hubbub that ensued in Florida when a community watchman followed a “suspicious looking” youth to see what he was up to, is it tendentious to ask what Wills was thinking?  What makes a bunch of kids going into the park at lunchtime suspicious?  The article does not say what the kids looked like, but the scenario raises the question of what does and what does not constitute “profiling.” 

Wills’ spokesman says the Post has it wrong.  “He did not follow some people because they looked suspicious,” she says.  “He saw an altercation about to transpire and he went to break it up.”

In either version of the story, is this behavior foolish or heroic?  Noble or insane?  Wills is neither a police officer nor a trained mediator. In a sense he is fantastically lucky that he wasn’t beaten up or shot.  On one hand we have to admire the grit and sense of civic duty that led him to intervene; on the other, we have to ask when and in what circumstances we should make the assumptions that lead to such interventions.   Wills’ instincts about the situation were correct, as it turns out, but his judgment about what to do about it was, sadly, flawed.


Queens Members Supported Bogus Young Leaders Institute

Van Holmes’ arrest today should implicate four sitting Council members who have dealt with his bogus “Young Leaders Institute.”

Holmes, whose organization received most of its funding from former Sen. Shirley Huntley, is accused of having pocketed $77,000 out of $80,000 in recorded government disbursements.  The group’s early tax filings are filled out in a nearly illegible scrawl, and record Holmes’ annual compensation as $100,000.  No other officers or employees are listed.

The Young Leaders Institute also received substantial money from the City Council.  In 2011, Council Members Ruben Wills, Leroy Comrie, James Sanders and Mark Weprin gave a combined $40,000 to Holmes’ group.  Wills allocated $28,500 to the organization, by far his largest single discretionary grant that year.

Ruben Wills, another Huntley protégé, has his own problems with a fake non-profit group, New Yorkers 4 Life, which he established for seemingly the same purpose as the Young Leaders Institute: as a way to get government money for personal use.

In 2012, Wills’ discretionary funding was stripped from him and superintended by the head of the Queens Council delegation, Leroy Comrie, who together with Mark Weprin steered a mere $8,500 to the Young Leaders Institute.

Van Holmes has made campaign contributions to his benefactors on the Council.  Leroy Comrie received $440, Wills $200 and Donovan Richards $100.