Report: Trustee wants $1 billion

Updated: February 6, 2011, 9:42 AM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

The trustee seeking to recover funds for victims of convicted swindler Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme wants $1 billion from the owners of the New York Mets, according to The New York Times.

On Friday, U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge Burton R. Lifland unsealed a lawsuit originally filed in December naming Mets owners Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz as defendants.

"What the trustee is looking for here is a payment in cash," attorney David Sheehan, who leads Irving Picard's legal team, told the Times. "So whether they utilize the Mets, [Wilpon-owned television network] SNY, [Wilpon-owned] Sterling properties or any other resource is of no moment to us.

"What we're looking for is a billion dollars, and unless we settle for less than that, which we're not inclined to do, where they get the money is of no moment to us."

The suit seeks to recover roughly $300 million in alleged profits by the Wilpon and Katz families and businesses as the result of the Ponzi scheme -- money the Mets' ownership family removed from certain funds over the amount invested.

The lawsuit also seeks an unnamed additional amount of the principal invested by the Wilpons and Katz because, Picard alleges, the family knew, or should have known because of ample warnings, that Madoff was performing illegal activities to reach 18 percent average annual returns.

That extra amount, it turns out, is roughly $700 million -- bringing the amount sought in the lawsuit to $1 billion, according to Times.

Throwing out the astronomical sum likely in large part is designed to compel the Wilpons to settle for a lesser figure -- still in the hundreds of millions of dollars -- although the sides indicated settlement talks broke down Thursday.

The potential staggering liability if the case ends up at trial demonstrates just how dire things might become for the Wilpon family in terms of retaining ownership of the Mets. The team reportedly already has $430 million in loans or other debt.

Lawyers for the Wilpons and Katz portray the family as victims who had no idea of the fraud, and who entrusted Madoff, a family friend, with most of their business and personal investments.

Adam Rubin covers the Mets for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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