Clawback limit upheld in Mets owners' case

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A federal judge Tuesday refused to allow an immediate appeal of rulings that dramatically scaled down the claims of the Bernard Madoff bankruptcy trustee against the owners of the New York Mets, keeping the case on track for a March trial.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, whose legal rulings last year cut trustee Irving Picard's claims down from $1 billion to less than $400 million, said that allowing appeals before trial is unusual, and would delay a trial that will help clarify the issues.

"Whether on the ballfield or in court, 'it ain't over till it's over' is both shrewd observation and sound advice," the judge wrote, crediting Yogi Berra in a footnote.

Picard has alleged that Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, friends of and investors with Madoff, had reason to know that his operation was a Ponzi scheme, and should be required to cough up $1 billion in principal and profits they took out.

Those massive potential financial liabilities created doubts about the current owners' ability to keep control of the Mets and forced the owners to seek new investors.

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But Rakoff last fall ruled that Picard could pursue claims going back only two years before the Madoff bankruptcy -- for about $83 million in profits and $300 million in principal.

The judge also set a high standard for the trustee to recover the principal, holding that he would have to show "willful blindness" toward Madoff's fraud, not just negligence.

Picard wanted permission to appeal those rulings to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals immediately, arguing that they raised issues affecting other cases he has brought attempting to recover money for victims of the Madoff fraud. Picard's office said he had no comment.

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Madoff's fraud, estimated at $18 billion, was exposed in 2008. He is serving a 150-year prison sentence.

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