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