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Mets’ financial losing streak takes pricey turn

FILE - In this Oct. 29, 2010, file photo, New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, left, and COO Jeff Wilpon, listen to a question from the media during a baseball news conference in New York. A judge has ruled that owners of the New York Mets owe up to $83 million to the trustee recovering money for Bernard Madoff investors. Federal Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan ruled Monday, March 5, 2012, that there will still be a trial on whether additional money is owed. But he expressed doubt that the Mets would owe more. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek, File)
AP Photos/Kathy Kmonicek
By Philip Newman

For the already financially struggling New York Mets, the news gets ever worse.

A federal judge has ordered the Mets owners to pay as much as $83 million to a trustee in the Bernard Madoff case and ordered them to trial March 19 with the outcome possibly meaning they could be liable for another $303 million.

Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. Court for the Southern District of New York issued the ruling resulting from trustee Irving Picard’s claim that the Mets owners should pay up to $1 billion into a fund to reimburse multitudes of victims of Madoff’s fraudulent dealings.

“The principal issue remaining for trial is whether the defendants acted in good faith when they invested [with Madoff in the two years prior to bankruptcy] or whether, by contrast, they willfully blinded themselves to Madoff’s Ponzi scheme,” Rakoff wrote. “The court remains skeptical that the trustee can ultimately rebut the defendants’ showing of good faith.”

Madoff was sentenced to 150 years, which he is serving in a federal prison in North Carolina.

The judge’s ruling comes on the heels of revelations that the Mets, who are observing their 50th anniversary, are in dreadful financial condition.

Newsday, in information obtained through a federal Freedom of Information inquiry, disclosed that Citi Field revenues have fallen by more than 30 percent since the park opened four years ago, attendance has declined by 26 percent and revenue from the sale of premium seats plummeted by nearly 50 percent. Proceeds from concessions and parking also declined.

Fred Wilpon, the principal owner, said his family would do all it could to keep the franchise. He said a competitive team was the key to recovery.

The Mets were 70-92 last season.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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