But on Tuesday, Ms. Cooper, a prominent Queens Republican, was indicted on charges that she stole more than $50,000 from Unisphere Inc., a nonprofit organization she founded in 2003, ostensibly to continue her work protecting the park, according to the New York Times.
Ms. Cooper would face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, according to the Queens district attorney’s office.
Her lawyer, Vito Palmieri, said Ms. Cooper might try to avoid going to trial. Citing her age, he said he would explore “the possibility of working something out that is not onerous to her and lets her live out her years in peace.”
“She’s got 50 years’ worth of community service to New York City and Queens County — all good works,” he added.
Ms. Cooper, now 82, ran unsuccessfully for State Senate in 1978, and for borough president in 1986.
Phil Ragusa, a certified public accountant who had filed the nonprofit group’s tax returns since its inception, said he discovered evidence of theft in November 2011, when he uncovered major A.T.M. withdrawals that could not be accounted for.
“All the people loved her, and all of a sudden something like this comes up,” said Mr. Ragusa, who is also the Queens County Republican Party chairman and has known Ms. Cooper for 35 years.
“Even though I know her all those years, when you discover something like this, you got to put a stop to it,” he said.
After the discovery, Unisphere conducted an internal audit and passed on the findings to the district attorney’s office in February. The chairman of Unisphere, Bruce Bendell, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Ms. Cooper resigned as Unisphere’s executive director in December. A month later, she quit her longtime position as assistant parks commissioner, for which she earned $101,507 a year. At the time, she said she was leaving to start a political consulting firm with her grandson, Michael Balsamo.
On Tuesday, Phil Abramson, a spokesman for the parks department, said in an e-mail that the charges were serious.
“If the charges are proved to be true,” he said, “this would be an inexcusable theft of private funds that were donated to benefit a public park.”