BY JAMES FARRELL
A frustrated Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) shouted out in anger in a Queens court room Monday morning after a judge ruled that a several key witnesses could not testify in his ongoing corruption trial.
“You’re stopping my entire case!” Wills yelled.
Queens County Supreme Court Judge Ira Margulis reprimanded Wills, warning that he would be held in contempt if he continued to have outbursts.
The witnesses were expected to testify confirm the existence of several events that occurred between June 2008 and December 2009—a key point in Wills’ defense, his attorney Kevin O’Donnell said.
“You’re taking the rug right from under our feet,” O’Donnell told Queens County Supreme Court Judge Ira Margulis after the decision. “You are preventing us from submitting a defense to the jury.”
Wills is accused of using more than $30,000 in public funds for personal items. The money was earmarked to Wills’ nonprofit New York 4 Life by former state Sen. Shirley Huntley in 2010. He had entered a contract that made the funding available between December 2009 and November 2010, but in that period, only $14,000 was used. The rest as used for personal purchases at Nordstrom and Century 21, the state attorney general’s office claims.
But O’Donnell argued that Wills misunderstood the terms of the contract, and believed the funding to be available beginning in June 2008. New York 4 Life hosted several charity events, such as an event honoring single mothers, beginning in that time before the contract officially started, which, he argues, accounts for the missing funding. He told the Queens Tribune that a city representative had previously testified that it was “reasonable” for someone to misunderstand the contract.
The witnesses, including a videographer named Danilo Ignacio, a pastor named Larry Davidson and state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Jamaica), were expected to testify that they had taken part in the events, in order to confirm their existence.
But Margulis said that the trial was not about whether the events took place, but rather, “whether he spent money on items that were not specified in the award from New York State.”
“These people cannot testify to that at all,” Margulis said.
When Margulis ruled that he would not wait until tomorrow to allow any other witnesses, Wills slammed his hand down on the table.
“Mr. Wills, if I hear other comments from you, then I’ll make sure that I don’t hear them from you, you understand?” Margulis said.
Ultimately, Margulis said he would allow one permitted witness, currently on vacation, to testify tomorrow morning before summations. Meanwhile, witness Kim Newsom testified this afternoon on the involvement of Shawn Garrick in New York 4 Life. Last week, Garrick, who was listed as the executive director of the non-profit, claimed to have had no idea that he was the executive director.
Outside the courtroom, O’Donnell expressed frustration.
“It’s incredibly distressing, I couldn’t disagree with [Margulis] more,” O’Donnell told the Queens Tribune. “Don’t confuse that with me disrespecting him.”
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.