Wilpons, Madoff have had long history

Bernard Madoff leaves federal court in Manhattan. (March

Bernard Madoff leaves federal court in Manhattan. (March 10, 2009) (Credit: Getty Images)

The need to possibly sell up to 25 percent of the New York Mets is the latest chapter in the 30-year history of the Wilpon-Madoff relationship.

Jeff Wilpon, the Mets' chief operating officer, had been a close friend of Bernard Madoff's son Mark since their days at Roslyn High School. Mark Madoff committed suicide last year.

The Wilpon family had multiple accounts with Bernard Madoff, who is now in prison, and he had choice box seats near Mets chief executive Fred Wilpon at Citi Field, said sources investigating Madoff.

"The money, you don't like to lose money that's just stolen from you," Fred Wilpon said Friday.

Trustee Irving Picard filed a lawsuit last month seeking to recover, or "claw back," an undisclosed amount from the Wilpons' Sterling Equities and scores of related companies and individuals, such as the Wilpons.

The fact that they received more money than they had invested, Picard contends, essentially makes the Wilpons and their companies "net winners" who profited from cash stolen by Madoff from other investors.

Because the complaint filed in Manhattan federal bankruptcy court is sealed, the exact amount Picard is seeking from the Wilpons is being kept from the public.

The money Picard is seeking from just two of more than 100 Sterling-related accounts is about $49 million, according to available court records, leading to expectation that the overall figure would be a lot higher.

"Yes, I think the number is much greater," than $49 million, said Garden City attorney Jerome Reisman, who represents several Madoff victims. "I heard it is a greater number."

"Forty-nine million dollars shouldn't have to make them sell [part of] the team," he added.

Through a spokesman, Picard declined to comment Friday.

Reisman said the Wilpon empire and its real estate holdings have been hurt by the drop in the market in the last two years.

"That is an additional pressure for the Wilpons in addition to the Madoff issues," Reisman said.

Over the years the Wilpons gained a good reputation in the business world and were stung by the massive betrayal of Madoff, Reisman said.

In October, the Mets Limited Partnership, part of Sterling's stable of companies, had its claim for up to $500,000 in compensation from the Securities Investor Protection Corp. rejected by Picard.

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