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Ruben Wills

Other New York exonerations with no crime
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On May 7, 2014, 42-year-old Ruben Wills, a New York City councilman from Queens, was arrested on charges of fraud and grand larceny. The Queens District Attorney’s office accused him of misusing grant money to pay for personal expenses.

Wills went to trial in Queens County Supreme Court in July 2017. The prosecution contended that Wills allegedly used grant money awarded to his nonprofit organization, New York 4 Life, by the New York State Office of Children & Family Services (OCFS), and public campaign matching funds given to him by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, to pay for personal expenses.

Wills’s defense lawyer sought to present witnesses who would testify that OCFS grant money was appropriated mistakenly but in good faith as reimbursement for expenses he personally paid for events occurring in 2008 and 2009, after the grant was awarded but in a time period not covered by the grant. In addition, the defense asked to present witnesses who said they were paid for services at a 2009 event.

Justice Ira Margulis barred the testimony because the witnesses could not testify as to the source of the money that was used to pay them.

On July 20, 2017, the jury convicted Wills of first-degree fraud, two counts of third-degree grand larceny, and two counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. He was sentenced to two to six years in prison, fined $5,000, and ordered to make restitution of $32,874.

On August 12, 2019, Wills was released on parole.

On September 16, 2020 the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial.

“The record does not establish that the defendant was acting in bad faith in seeking to present the testimony of these witnesses at the trial,” the appellate court ruled. “The proposed testimony did not deal with a collateral issue, but, rather, went to the heart of the defendant's claim of right defense. Thus, it was error for the Supreme Court to have prospectively precluded the defendant's witnesses from testifying, and, under the facts of this case, that error cannot be deemed harmless.”

On April 22, 2021, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

In April 2024, Wills filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/3/2024
Last Updated: 5/25/2021
State:New York
County:Queens
Most Serious Crime:Fraud
Additional Convictions:Theft, Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:2009
Convicted:2017
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:2 to 6 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:38
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No