$100G missing from Unisphere Inc.


| tcullen@queenscourier.com |

The Unisphere was lit-up red for American Heart Month

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the biggest park in Queens, is currently being considered for the development of a new shopping mall, two new stadiums and concert venues and several parking garages and roads inside the park.

After doing the taxes for Unisphere Inc. — a non-profit conservancy group — since its inception in 2003, accountant Phil Ragusa noticed things were not lining up for 2010.

Ragusa said he noticed something was not right in the group’s 2010 taxes when he got them right before Unisphere’s November 2011 filing deadline. He and a board member then requested the 2011 books from Flushing Meadows-Corona Park administrator Estelle Cooper to check for discrepancies, he said. The 501(c)(3) organization’s bank finally gave Ragusa the books, he said, after he was not able to attain them from Cooper.

“I called Estelle, she didn’t give it to me,” he said. “Eventually, we went right to the bank and got it.”

The differential was mainly through ATM withdrawals that came close to $100,000, he said.

“As far as I know, there were unauthorized withdrawals from the ATM,” Ragusa said.

Ragusa said he brought the information to Unisphere Chair Bruce Bendell. After that, he said, Bendell brought the findings to the Board of Directors, who hired a lawyer and turned the case over to the district attorney.

“As soon as we became aware of it, we did the proper thing,” he said.

Last week, the New York Post reported that Cooper had been misspending funds from the group, and investigators are looking into her activities. Cooper spent nearly 18 years running the park, before resigning in January to begin her own political consulting firm.

Calls to board members were not answered at deadline, and a number for Cooper had been disconnected.

The DA’s office could neither confirm nor deny any investigation into Cooper, as per policy. The New York City Department of Investigation declined to comment on the matter.