PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - An emotional Fred Wilpon said Thursday his family "has nothing to hide" and "will be vindicated" despite allegations by trustee Irving Picard that claim the Wilpons knew or should have known about Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The Mets' principal owner added that they were "duped" by Madoff, a close friend.
Wilpon, sitting with his son, chief operating officer Jeff, spoke with reporters for roughly 20 minutes on Field 2 of the team's spring training complex as the players stretched about 60 yards away.
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These were the principal owner's first public comments since Jan. 28, when he announced plans to sell a partial share of the Mets.
"We did not know one iota, one thing about Madoff's fraud," Fred Wilpon said. "We didn't do anything wrong. If anything, we trusted a friend for a very long time. And as I told you a few months ago, that betrayal is very difficult for me. Because this was a man, we were friends for 35 years and investors for 25 years.
"Having said that, we will be vindicated. What you have been writing about are allegations. They're allegations made by the trustee. Allegations are not fact. We have to now come back and tell you what our facts are, based upon facts, based upon the law. And our lawyers are doing that, and they will do that. And we will be vindicated."
Asked later what he meant by "vindication," Fred Wilpon explained he was not necessarily talking about the financial side. That will be determined by the law, he added. But he is more concerned now with repairing his family's reputation.
"By vindication, I mean No. 1, everybody will know we had nothing to do with it and we didn't know anything about it and we were duped," Fred Wilpon said. "Beyond that, I don't know how the law comes out. The law seems to be very much in our favor, but I can't really speak to that."
A day earlier, Jeff Wilpon held a smaller, impromptu gathering with reporters in the Mets' clubhouse, where he promised that his family will be "victorious in the end." Jeff Wilpon also said the family will not sell "controlling interest" in the Mets, a point that his father emphasized Thursday.
The Wilpons remain adamant that they are looking for only a limited partner to buy up to 25 percent of the franchise, which has an estimated worth of $850 million. When Fred Wilpon was asked Thursday why he is so certain the family can keep controlling interest of the Mets - without knowing how the clawback lawsuit will be resolved - he cited "other businesses and resources."
Picard is seeking up to $1 billion from Sterling Equities for allegedly fraudulent gains in the Ponzi scheme.
"I can tell you with certainty I know I'm here today, and frankly I don't know whether I'll be dead tomorrow," Fred Wilpon said. "I can only tell you that we have the resources in other business. Every one of the other businesses are going very well, as I told you last time. This business has to be straightened out.
"Every other business we have, I like; this business, I love. I love the New York Mets. I've been around here for almost 32 years. This is part of my DNA. So we're going to do everything we can possibly to see that we bring competitive, winning teams here."
Fred Wilpon said the Mets will be unaffected by the Madoff scandal and that the payroll, which figures to be about $145 million for the 2011 season, will be determined by new general manager Sandy Alderson.
"As far as the team is concerned, we are making provisions," Fred Wilpon said. "We have made provisions to have all of the necessary resources. As Jeff said yesterday, this team has a pretty good payroll now and we expect that those resources will be in place for not only this year but for years to come."