Mets fielding a legal team?

Forget pitchers and catchers, the New York Mets should send lawyers and accountants to spring training.

While other Major League clubs are calibrating pitching rotations and compiling a lineup, the Amazins’ will be fielding a legal team to defend against a lawsuit stemming from the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.

The suit brought by the trustee for victims of Madoff’s scheme against Fred Wilpon, his business partners in Sterling Equities and the New York Mets was unsealed on Friday, February 4, revealing a litany of alleged financial balks by Mets owners.

Trustee Irving Picard’s 373-page complaint seeks approximately $300 million in profits taken by Wilpon and the 48 accounts the Sterling Partners held with Madoff, plus damages, for a total of more than $1 billion. Additional damages could be brought against the Mets if it is proven that Wilpon and his business partner and brother-in-law Saul Katz ignored repeated warnings about the returns they were yielding from Madoff.

In a joint statement, Wilpon and Katz said that the lawsuit doubles their victim status – once from Madoff and now from this lawsuit.

“The Trustee’s lawsuit is an outrageous ‘strong arm’ effort to try to force a settlement by threatening to ruin our reputations and businesses which we have built for over 50 years,” Wilpon and Katz, partners in Sterling Equities, said in a statement. “This is a flagrant abuse of the Trustee’s authority and we will not succumb to his pressure. The conclusions in the complaint are not supported by the facts. While they may make for good headlines, they are abusive, unfair and untrue. We categorically reject them. We should not be made victims twice over – first time by Madoff, and again by the Trustee’s actions.”

Prior to this new round of allegations, Fred and Jeff Wilpon revealed that they are currently looking to sell 20-25 percent of the Mets to help raise money that may ultimately be used to cover a Madoff settlement.

Wilpon made his money in real-estate development and management, and purchased a 1 percent stake in the Mets in 1980. He increased that stake to 50 percent in 1986, co-owning the team with partner Nelson Doubleday – he bought out Doubleday’s half of the team in 2002.

He has increasingly delegated oversight of the team to his son Jeff, the Mets’ chief operating officer.

From 2003 through 2010, the Mets spent roughly $1 billion on player salaries and consistently had one of the highest payrolls in baseball. But in that span, the team lost more regular-season games (652) than it won (643) and made the playoffs only once.

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