Former City Councilmember Ruben Wills, who was convicted of fraud and grand larceny and served two years in prison, is eyeing a political comeback after a State Appeals Court reversed his conviction and returned the case to Queens Supreme Court.
His entrance would likely upend a race where the current City Councilmember Adrienne Adams is running unopposed in the Democratic primary. Wills has name recognition and a story of alleged injustice that could resonate with voters.
Council District 28 includes the Queens neighborhoods of Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village and South Ozone Park. Wills, 49, was first elected in 2010. He went to prison in 2017 after a jury found he used public money awarded to his non-profit, as well as campaign finance matching funds, on personal expenses like a designer bag.
An Appeals Court ruling found that during his trial Wills was “deprived of his ‘right to present evidence by witnesses of [his] own choosing [which] is a fundamental ingredient of due process.’”
A spokesperson for Attorney General Letitia James said prosecutors have not decided yet whether or not to retry the case. Wills’s lawyer, Kevin O’Donnell, said his client had served his sentence and it wouldn’t be wise to spend public funds on an expensive second trial.
“Even if we went to trial and he was convicted the judge would give him the same sentence and he already served it,” said O’Donnell. “I am not sure the effort is worth the result and I certainly hope the Attorney General’s office sees it the way I do.”
The City Council passed a bill earlier this month that disqualifies people convicted of certain felonies, including those that involve public corruption, from running for public offices which the mayor is expected to sign into law on Wednesday. It will prevent other potential candidates, including former State Senator and City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, from running for office -- but not Wills because his conviction was reversed.
He told Gothamist/WNYC that he thinks the law was designed to benefit those currently in power.
“I'm disappointed in, you know, people who profess to be progressive for the sake of carrying a progressive banner, but then turn around and pass a bill that stops people from having second chances just to protect the incumbency,” he said.