Mario Cuomo to mediate Madoff-Wilpon suit

Then-New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo, center, celebrates with

Then-New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo, center, celebrates with his father, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, before giving his victory speech in New York City. (Nov. 2, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

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Mario Cuomo, a former minor league ballplayer and a major league mediator, will try to settle a high-stakes lawsuit filed against the owners of the Mets by the trustee in the Bernard Madoff case.

A Manhattan bankruptcy judge Thursday signed an order appointing the three-term New York governor as mediator in the case brought by trustee Irving Picard. The trustee is seeking up to $1 billion from the Wilpon family and its partners over profits he said they made as investors in Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Judge Burton Lifland's order gave few details. But he said he was naming Cuomo, 78, the father of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to the job with the consent of both sides to seek a resolution.Lifland said the case has "special issues" that "suggest referral to an appropriately experienced mediator."

Before serving as governor, Cuomo made a name for himself as a conciliator in two bitter housing disputes in Queens in the 1960s and 1970s.

He represented homeowners faced with displacement by a city project in Corona and later mediated a Forest Hills fight over low-income housing.

More recently, he served as a mediator in a bankruptcy case involving the asbestos industry.

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His credentials as a baseball devotee also are well established. In 1952, at age 20, he played in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, hitting .244. After an injury, Cuomo decided to pursue a law degree.

The Madoff trustee's case against the Wilpons forced them to put a minority stake of the team up for sale. When the full size of Picard's demands became public last week, it heightened doubts over whether the Mets' owners will be able to retain majority control.

Picard accused the Wilpons, their Sterling Equities company and partners of taking profits from their Madoff accounts at a time when they "knew or should have known" that his operation was a scam.

The Wilpons countered by saying Picard's lawsuit was a "strong arm" attempt to squeeze them for cash to pay victims of Madoff.

With mediation under way, Lifland ordered that no papers about negotiations be filed with his court.

David Sheehan, counsel for Picard, declined to comment, as did Cuomo.

"The court has ordered mediation and at this time we have nothing further to say," Sterling Partners, a unit of Sterling Equities, said in a statement.

Legal observers said Cuomo's appointment could boost the chances for a settlement. "This is a wonderful thing for everyone," said Jerome Reisman, a Garden City attorney representing some Madoff victims.

"Those mediation sessions can be very helpful and can flush out the issues between the parties and the mediator assists the parties to bridge the gap and reach a settlement," said Reisman, who has gone through a number of bankruptcy court mediations.

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