The owners of the Mets and the trustee in the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme told mediator Mario Cuomo they will try as hard as they can to settle their legal battle, the former governor said Friday.
Cuomo told Newsday that a prolonged fight in bankruptcy court over trustee Irving Picard's $1-billion lawsuit against the team owners would become a costly war of attrition.
"Both sides agree, 'Yes we are willing to make every effort to make settlement here,' " said Cuomo, adding that he has talked separately to lawyers for the two sides.
The former New York governor was appointed mediator by Manhattan bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland last month in an effort to bring an end to the bitter court battle, which has sparked doubts about the team's finances and is forcing its owners to sell a stake in the franchise to raise cash.
Picard asserts the team owners, Fred Wilpon and brother-in-law Saul Katz, ignored indications that Madoff was running a scam. The Wilpons have denied knowing anything about Madoff's fraud and insist they were victims.
"What the judge [Lifland] was hoping was that there could be a settlement because it is better than litigation that is long and maybe even ugly," Cuomo said. "It is less expensive to those paying bills."
Cuomo said he couldn't speak to the finances of the Wilpon-Katz companies. But he said the longer the case drags on, the more expensive it becomes for the Securities Investor Protection Corp., the nonprofit entity that is paying Picard's costs. "The money thing is a big piece here," Cuomo said.
As things stand now, Cuomo said he hoped to have more talks next week with attorneys for Picard and Wilpon's Sterling Equities Inc. to find out what each side was willing to compromise on, if at all.
"Now what I will do is talk separately and then bring them together and then talk about numbers," Cuomo said.
"I think the lawyers will tell if it can be done sooner - better sooner than later . . . the sooner you make a deal, the sooner you move on to other things," Cuomo said.
"I have no power except reasonableness," added Cuomo about his mediator role.
Picard is seeking around $300 million in profits allegedly paid to the Sterling partners and an additional $700 million on grounds they knew or should have known about Madoff's scheme. Picard is expected to add more allegations to his complaint by March 18, court records show.