The situation is now the subject of three separate investigations, and has already forced the longtime administrator of the massive city park — who also ran the conservancy Unisphere Inc. — to resign both her positions.
“We’re just trying to get to the bottom of it,” said conservancy chairman Bruce Bendell.
Officials pointed fingers at Estelle Cooper, the 82-year-old Republican leader and one-time candidate for Queens borough president who spent 17 years running Flushing Meadows. She earned $101,500 from the city.
Cooper first came under scrutiny from Unisphere’s board last summer, when questions were raised about a rental arrangement she had worked out between the Parks Department and a camp operated at the park by Cooper’s daughter.
“There were some definite problems with the camp that was being run there,” Bendell said.
Then, when the conservancy tried to reconcile the year-end books, board members learned that thousands of dollars had been taken out of the group’s coffers without approval, they told The Post.
“Debits were being made multiple times, and being made on the same day, many of them in Atlantic City,” said Mark Scheinberg, who recently quit the board.
“Something really wrong was going on, and she didn’t report this to the group, nor did she submit anything.”
Cooper could not be reached, and her lawyer did not return calls.
Unisphere’s board has retained an outside law firm to comb through the group’s records. Both the Queens DA and city Department of Investigation are also looking into the matter.
“I was very shocked to see what happened,” said Queens Republican boss Phil Ragusa, who does Unisphere’s accounting.
Ragusa insisted he had no clue that money was being withdrawn without approval until last fall, when he alerted board members.
Records show Cooper was paid $7,500 a year by Unisphere. The 15-year-old organization is credited with helping restore the 1,255-acre park that has hosted two Worlds Fairs. According to its most recent tax returns, Unisphere raised $66,000 through its annual gala, and is supposed to have a balance of nearly $281,000 in the bank.
Cooper left her city job quietly on Jan. 6.
At the time, the Parks Department crowed about her career at Flushing Meadows, saying “Under Estelle’s tenure, the park has seen many transformations . . . We all wish Estelle the best as she embarks on her new endeavors.”
Before being appointed to the Parks job in 1994, Cooper waged unsuccessful bids for the state Senate in 1978 and then for borough president in 1986.