Tag Archives: Estelle Cooper

Indicted former park administrator Estelle Cooper dies

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

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.”





Former park administrator Estelle Cooper indicted on grand larceny

| mchan@queenscourier.com

File Photo

Former Queens Parks Commissioner Estelle Cooper has been indicted on grand larceny charges for allegedly stealing over $50,000 from a nonprofit conservancy group she helped start, according to the district attorney.

Cooper, 82, of Whitestone was arraigned on Tuesday, July 17 in Queens Supreme Court on a two-count indictment charging her with second- and third-degree grand larceny. She faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted and was released on her own recognizance, said District Attorney Richard Brown.

She is ordered to return to court on September 12.

Cooper, a former administrator of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and assistant commissioner with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, spent 18 years overseeing the large park before resigning in January. She also ran Unisphere Inc., a nonprofit conservancy group she had a huge hand in establishing to fund activities at the park, before stepping down in December 2011.

The alleged fraud was initially discovered in November 2011 as a result of an internal audit conducted by Unisphere, Inc., Brown said. The group’s accountant, Phil Ragusa, said he noticed things were not lining up for 2010 after crunching Unisphere’s numbers. Requests he made to Cooper to check the books for discrepancies were denied, Ragusa said, and information was finally attained through the 501(c)(3) organization’s bank.

The differential was mainly through unauthorized ATM withdrawals that came close to $100,000, he said. The group’s board of directors then hired a lawyer and turned the case over to the Queens district attorney’s office in February.

A Queens County grand jury charged Cooper obtained access to Unisphere funds and then systematically stole over $50,000 between November 1, 2007 and December 31, 2011.

“It’s a sad day,” Ragusa said of the indictment.

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

Additional reporting by Terence M. Cullen

$100G missing from Unisphere Inc.

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

The Unisphere was lit-up red for American Heart Month

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.

Former park administrator Estelle Cooper under investigation for misspending

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

The Unisphere was lit-up red for American Heart Month

Estelle Cooper, the former administrator of Flushing Meadows-Corona park, has been named in investigations of $90,000 that was misspent by a conservancy group she ran, the New York Post reported.

Cooper also ran Unisphere Inc. – a non-profit conservancy group that worked to revive the park. She spent 18 years overseeing the large park before resigning in January.

Officials told The Post the 82-year-old was part of three separate investigations into the misspending. Unisphere board members were suspicious of deals Cooper made with the Parks Department, The Post reported, and a camp run by her daughter. Members had then noticed thousands of dollars had been taken out of the group’s funds without approval.


Cooper resigns from Queens parks

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Having planted the seeds for a flourishing Parks Department, Estelle Cooper, assistant commissioner of the Queens Department of Parks and Recreation and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park administrator, has resigned.

Under Cooper’s 18-year tenure, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park transformed. She advocated for the installation of a set of synthetic soccer fields, the construction of the Aquatic Center and the new Al Oerter Recreation Center.

According to the Parks Department, Cooper also expanded the United States Tennis Association as well as surveyed the construction of the New York Met’s new home, Citi Field.

“The parks have seen significant upgrades [because of Cooper]. They’re greener and more sustainable,” said Steven Stites, a source close to Cooper. “I don’t think you’ll find a person who’ll speak ill about her.”

According to Stites, Estelle plans to begin a new career as a partner in a political communications firm.

“We all wish Estelle the best as she embarks on her new endeavors,” said a Parks Department spokesperson.

In the interim, as the Parks Department searches for a successor to Cooper’s legacy, Janice Melnick, administrator for Northeast Queens Parks, will oversee Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Editor’s Note: See next week’s Queens Courier for a look at the future of Queens parks.

Assistant Queens Parks Commissioner Retires

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

Assistant Commissioner for Queens Parks and Flushing Meadows Corona Park Administrator Estelle Cooper has stepped down from her post affective Friday, January 6.

In her resignation, Cooper said, “I regret to announce I am leaving my post and am pleased to continue my career elsewhere.”

For updates on this story, visit Queenscourier.com.