Thousands Stolen From Conservancy
Former Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Administrator Estelle Cooper was indicted on Tuesday, July 17, for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from the conservancy she helped launch for Queens’ largest public greenspace, law enforcement sources said.
The 82-year-old resident of Whitestone entered a plea of not guilty during her arraignment on Tuesday in Queens Criminal Court before Justice Fernando M. Camacho on charges of second- and third-degree grand larceny. She was released on her own recognizance and is scheduled to return to court on Sept. 12; if convicted, she faces up to 15 years behind bars.
According to a press release issued by Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, an internal audit of Unisphere Inc.-an organization founded in part by Cooper in 2003 to promote and fund activities at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park-found that Cooper allegedly stole more than $50,000 in funds from the group.
Unisphere Inc., named for the landmark steel globe erected during the 1964-65 World’s Fair in the heart of Flushing Meadows, “was formed to help the park raise funds to bolster and expand the current programs” offered within, as noted in the mission statement on the group’s website, www.unisphereinc.org.
The results of the November 2011 audit were forwarded to the Queens District Attorney’s office in February for further investigation.
Cooper resigned from her post at Unisphere Inc in December 2011 and later stepped down from her posts with the city’s Parks Department as an assistant commissioner and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park administrator.
Published reports indicated that Cooper had worked with the Parks Department for 17 years and, toward the end of her career, had a six-figure annual salary. She was also a former secretary with the Queens County Republican Party who made two unsuccessful runs for public office.
Det. Kevin J. Kehoe of the D.A.’s Detective Bureau conducted the investigation under the supervision of Sgt. Evelyn MacDougall and Lt. Robert J. Burke and the overall supervision of Deputy Chief Investigator Albert D. Velardi and Chief Investigator Lawrence J. Festa.
Forensic Accountant Andrew W. Risi, under the direction of Supervising Forensic Accountant James J. Dever, and legal interns Alexander Mendez and Nicholas Passaro also assisted in the probe.
The case is being prosecuted by Executive Assistant District Attorney Peter A. Crusco of the Investigations Division.
It was noted that the indictment is an accusation and Cooper is presumed innocent until proven guilty.