Commentary

Do the Wilpons have money to spend?

Former investor sues Mets' owners for their connection to Bernie Madoff scandal

Updated: July 31, 2010, 3:14 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- While the New York Yankees play big games and add another couple of veterans for a pennant run, the big news with the New York Mets is: The Wilpons got served.

As Alex Rodriguez endlessly pursues No. 600 and Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns arrive as the newest Yankees for their march toward October, Sterling Equities Associates, the parent company of the Mets, and Fred Wilpon, chairman of Sterling Equities and principal owner of the Mets, were sued in relation to the Bernie Madoff fraud case.

This counts as excitement for the Mets as another season dwindles into the abyss.

[+] EnlargeJeff Wilpon
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesBesides the Mets' recent play, now Jeff Wilpon has to worry about a lawsuit by a former employee.

The suit dredges up the biggest issue hanging over this franchise, and until the Wilpons either clear up everything with their actions or sell the team, these questions linger: What exactly is the financial state of the team? And how is that affecting what fans are seeing year in and year out?

This year at the trade deadline, the only thing Mets fans have seen so far is minor leaguer Mike Jacobs being shipped out.

Now, with the season fading away, even if the Mets were in the playoff race, could they add salary? Since Madoff's Ponzi scheme collapsed in billions of pieces, the Wilpons have said it has had no effect on the team, while their actions -- or lack of big, aggressive financial moves -- keep the questions alive.

The lawsuit filed Friday by Elyse S. Goldweber, widow of a former Sterling Equities employee, to recover assets lost in her late husband's retirement account might not uncover what has gone on with the Mets since Madoff's fraud was discovered in December 2008. But finding out the truth happens in steps, and this could be the first to knowing where this franchise is financially and where it might be going.

Thus far the truth about the Wilpons' financials has been murky, from the never-proven initial rumors that they lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the Madoff fraud to reports that they actually made money despite the scheme.

A court-appointed trustee, charged with recovering funds for Madoff's investors, has said the Mets invested approximately $523 million through Madoff, profitting almost $48 million.

Whatever the reality is from the hangover of the Madoff affair, the troubled real estate market -- in which the Wilpons have made much of their fortune -- and the lack of fannies in the Citi seats hang over each and every move and non-move the Mets make.

Fans rightfully don't care whether the Wilpons can buy another yacht. They care whether they can buy Cliff Lee this offseason.

The Mets don't seem able or willing to compete with the Yankees financially, which is inexcusable. The Yankees might have 27 championships and the prestige of their name, but the two teams are physically separated by 10 miles and a bridge while financially they seem worlds apart.

The suit by Goldweber alleges the Wilpons had fiduciary responsibility for the 401(k). Among all the investors, a total of $16.2 million of the $17.6 million in the 401(k) was invested with Madoff's firm. In the Goldweber filing, she says she lost the majority of the nearly $300,000 in her husband's retirement fund.

"We believe the complaint has no merit," the Wilpons said through a statement distributed by Sterling Equities.

As the trade deadline passes and another middling season grinds on with each loss, the question from Mets fans that certainly has merit is this: Do the Wilpons have the financial resources to fully support this team on the highest levels?

The Wilpons have continually said they do.

A class action suit might speak louder than words.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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