Report: Madoff says Wilpons didn't know

Owner Fred Wilpon of the New York Mets

Owner Fred Wilpon of the New York Mets addresses the media during spring training at Tradition Field. (Feb. 17, 2011) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Imprisoned financier Bernard Madoff says Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz weren't knowledgeable enough about the stock market to have figured out his Ponzi scheme, according to an interview in The New Yorker.

"Fred was not [at] all stock-market savvy and Saul was not really either," Madoff wrote reporter Jeffrey Toobin in an email. "They were strictly real estate people. Although I explained the strategy to them, they were not sophisticated enough to evaluate it properly, nor were most of my other individual clients.

"They were not in a position to perform the necessary due diligence and did not have access to necessary financial info or records," Madoff said.

In the piece, published Monday, Wilpon also offered many forthright comments about the current state of the Mets.

Wilpon and Katz, brothers-in-law, are being sued for $1 billion by Madoff trustee Irving Picard, who alleged that the Mets owners at least should have known that they were taking part in Madoff's illicit activities. Wilpon and Katz repeatedly have denied any wrongdoing.

Madoff added, in a telephone interview with Toobin: "I don't think Fred could be a nicer guy than he is. A family man, very straightforward and honest, he obviously loves baseball and loves the team. And it's really tragic, and I feel terrible about everything that he's going through."

Wilpon and Madoff first became associated, Wilpon told The New Yorker, through their sons, Jeff Wilpon (now the Mets' chief operating officer) and Mark Madoff, who became friendly while attending Roslyn High School. Mark Madoff committed suicide two years after his father's arrest. The fathers became friends, sometimes traveling overseas together.

When Wilpon learned of Madoff's arrest, Wilpon said, "That was like eating a Japanese dinner with someone who put a serrated knife in my heart and was turning it, you know."

There is concern throughout Major League Baseball that Wilpon and Katz won't be able to survive their financial woes, even if they can sell a minority share of their team for $200 million and hash out a settlement with Picard. However, Wilpon professed optimism to Toobin and said, of working with a partner, "We've always worked with partners in the real-estate business, and I'm sure we'll do fine with one in baseball."

Wilpon's emotional investment in the Mets, his current stress notwithstanding, is evident. The Mets' principal owner allowed Toobin to sit with him during a Mets home game against the Astros, and at one point, Wilpon said of Mets third baseman David Wright, "A really good kid. A very good player. Not a superstar."

He said of shortstop Jose Reyes, the Mets' best player this season and a pending free agent: "He thinks he's going to get Carl Crawford money," a reference to the seven-year, $142-million contract Boston gave Crawford last December. Wilpon continued of the injury-prone Reyes: "He's had everything wrong with him. He won't get it."

Of Carlos Beltran, Wilpon said, "He's 65 to 70 percent of what he was." And when Toobin remarked that Beltran enjoyed a great 2004 postseason with the Houston Astros, Wilpon relied, "We had one [person] in New York who paid him based on that one series." That was a self-criticism, as the Mets signed Beltran to a seven-year, $119-million contract that concludes this year.

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