Estelle Cooper, the longtime administrator of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park who was alleged to have stolen $50,000 from an organization she established, died on Saturday, December 29. She was a 82. Cooper, who was accused of taking money from her conservatory group, Unisphere Inc., oversaw the borough’s largest park for nearly two decades before stepping down in January 2011.
In 2003, she helped establish Unisphere Inc., a 501(c) (3) organization that worked on sprucing up and restoring the park. It was through this organization that Cooper was accused of misspending funds — mainly through ATM withdrawals that were not accounted for when the conservancy’s 2010 taxes were done.
Rumors that Cooper would be indicted for wrongful spending started swarming in June of 2012. These were confirmed when she was arraigned on Tuesday, July 17 at the Queens Supreme Court. She was charged with second- and third-degree counts of grand larceny, and if convicted, she could have faced up to 15 years in prison. She was due back in court in February.
Despite the charges and allegations in the last few months of her life, Cooper will also be remembered for her dedication to the park she oversaw since the 1990s. Mike Balsamo, speaking for all of Cooper’s family, said the late park administrator would be missed and remembered for the years of service she gave to Flushing Meadows.
“While we mourn the loss of a barrier-breaker,” he said, “We also celebrate the life of a dedicated public servant and hope that Estelle’s 50-year legacy to civic service offers an example to young people around the world that hard work can truly make dreams come true. We ask that you share in understanding and kindly respect our privacy, as we continue through one of the hardest moments our family will face.”
The Parks Department issued a statement that expressed sorrow for Cooper’s passing and sent its condolences to her
“The Parks Department was saddened to hear of Estelle Cooper’s passing,” the statement read. “We extend our deepest sympathies to her family during this difficult time.”