Monday, June 11, 2012

Attorney general investigates $33,000 state grant tied to City Councilman Ruben Wills' nonprofit

Eric Schneiderman files motion to compel New York 4 Life to open its books



 City Councilmember Ruben Wills.Dozens of hospital workers rally to call for an investigation of the Peninsula Hospital closure.Former NY State Senator Malcolm Smith and City councilmember Ruben Wills holding a press conference at 90 Church st. in Manhattan to call for a formal investigation into the Peninsula Hospital Center closure.

Mariela Lombard

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating a $33,000 grant linked to Councilman Ruben Wills (pictured) that has gone unaccounted for.

ALBANY — State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is probing a $33,000 state grant that is unaccounted for after it was doled out to a nonprofit tied to City Councilman Ruben Wills, the Daily News has learned.

Schneiderman’s investigators, frustrated by the Queens councilman’s failure to fully comply with a subpoena, have filed a motion in Manhattan Supreme Court to compel New York 4 Life to open its books, sources told The News.

The funds were earmarked in 2008 by state Sen. Shirley Huntley, the Queens Democrat who used to employ Wills as her chief of staff, court documents show. This is the third Huntley-secured legislative grant to be investigated by Schneiderman’s office.

New York 4 Life was supposed to use the money to fund a breakfast for single mothers; a luncheon for single fathers; a campaign to fight childhood obesity, and a program to “adopt” a commercial strip.

Wills — who last year pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge in an unrelated case — has been on the nonprofit’s board since he started the group in 2006, and served as its chairman since at least 2009, court records show. The organization has no website, but in Wills’ Council biography he said the group “has helped single mothers champion critical issues such as civic literacy and financial empowerment.”

In April 2011, the state Office of Children & Family Services sent a letter to Wills seeking documentation on how the grant was spent. It never got a response, the court filing alleges. Officials then told the group to either provide an accounting of the money, or return it. It did neither. The state agency ultimately referred the matter to Schneiderman’s office.

Letters to Wills that demanded repayment plus interest went ignored, according to court papers.

Schneiderman and state Controller Thomas DiNapoli jointly issued a subpoena in February that sought testimony about, and detailed documentation of, New York 4 Life’s use of the grant, and about the group’s organization and finances, court records show.

On Feb. 23, Wills met with Schneiderman’s investigators. He brought documents that provided no accounting for the $33,000, except for one undated invoice for $980, Schneiderman’s senior counsel, Emily Bradford, contends in the court papers.

Wills, who took office in a special election in 2010, frequently skipped or canceled other meetings with both Schneiderman’s and DiNapoli’s offices. At one meeting with the attorney general’s investigators, he left midsentence during questioning, records show.

Wills’ lawyer informed Schneiderman’s office that Wills will evoke his Fifth Amendment protection against giving testimony that might incriminate himself. Schneiderman, joined by DiNapoli, filed the court motion in April.

Wills and his lawyer couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday.

Late last year, Wills, a Democrat, settled a 15-year-old Manhattan larceny case after he repeatedly skipped court dates, even after a judge issued a bench warrant.

He was accused of damaging walls and stealing track lights from a building owned by a client he claimed had owed him money.

A source said Huntley at this point is not a target of the Wills probe.

Huntley’s niece and one of the lawmaker's top aides were indicted last year for allegedly pocketing $30,000 in state money that was intended for Parent Workshop Inc., a nonprofit Huntley founded before she joined the Legislature.

Schneiderman’s office, which conducted that investigation, is also probing another nonprofit, The Parent Information Network; it received thousands from the state since Huntley took office. The group shared Huntley’s home address, and her daughter is its founder and president.

klovett@nydailynews.com
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