- Adam Rubin, ESPN Staff Writer
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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon emphatically said Wednesday that his family will maintain majority ownership of the team, despite facing a $1 billion lawsuit from the trustee trying to recover funds for victims of convicted swindler Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
"We're not selling controlling interest of the team," Wilpon said inside the home clubhouse at the team's spring training facility. "It's not on the table."
Wilpon said his father, Mets principal owner Fred Wilpon, and his uncle, team president Saul Katz, have been victims of a smear campaign by lawyers bringing the suit against his family.
"This is all obviously a little bit of a distraction, and I feel really bad for our family and bad for my dad and my uncle because this is just unfounded criticism on them," Wilpon said. "They've had years and years that they've been good citizens, good businessmen. And to attack them the way they've been attacked is really very unfair, unfounded, and that's all I really want to say on that."
Wilpon maintained it is business as usual for the Mets, despite the family's recent announcement of the potential need to sell 20 to 25 percent of the team to raise funds for any potential settlement.
He added that the financial situation would not impede the Mets' ability to re-sign shortstop Jose Reyes, who is poised to be a free agent next winter, if general manager Sandy Alderson wishes to re-sign him. Wilpon said the front office is doing projections for payroll commitments for future seasons -- some of which include Reyes, and some of which do not.
"That's just prudent planning," Wilpon said. "... As you know, our payroll is going to be -- what? -- $145 [million], $150 million. That's tops in baseball, or right up there. We're going to be committed to make sure all the resources are here to continue to run this team the way it's been run."
Wilpon also stated that the names floating out there as potential minority ownership partners -- with Donald Trump among the most recent to get public attention -- are not the legitimate candidates in most cases.
He said there's been "a lot of interest" in purchasing a stake of the Mets.
"A lot of interest," he repeated. "And good interest from real people that you haven't read about in the papers, OK? Most of what you've read about in the paper is not real."
The Wilpons have yet to file court papers responding to the specific allegations brought in the lawsuit -- that may be a month or more away -- but they have broadly denied wrongdoing.
Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has been appointed a mediator in the dispute, but Wilpon sounded as though he wanted complete vindication for his family and not a settlement.
"Listen, as Fred and Saul said last week, the judge ordered a mediation," Wilpon said. "We're complying with that mediation. And it's in the lawyers' hands. I can't comment on that at all."
As for Madoff's prison interview Tuesday in which the swindler told The New York Times the Wilpons and Katz had no knowledge of the Ponzi scheme, Wilpon didn't want to touch the endorsement.
"I'm not going to discuss that," he said.
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