Trustee: Mets owners depended on Madoff cash

Mets pitcher Johan Santana is watched by owners

Mets pitcher Johan Santana is watched by owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, right. (Feb. 20, 2008) (Credit: AP)

The owners of the New York Mets were so strapped for cash at times that they couldn't make the team payroll without relying on their accounts with Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, a bankruptcy trustee said Thursday in newly unsealed court filings.

Irving Picard, the trustee trying to clean up the mess made by Madoff's nearly $20 billion fraud, also said in the unsealed material that the Mets could not have made a profit in 2002 had it not been for income generated by Madoff for Sterling Partners, the ballclub's owner.

Claims about the Mets' financial issues were among material that Picard had filed in legal papers a week ago containing business data of Sterling that had been kept confidential under a protective order. Thursday, sections that had been kept from the public were unsealed as part of a flurry of additional documents filed by the trustee and Sterling as their war over nearly $400 million gets closer to a March 19 trial in federal court in Manhattan.

In the lawsuit, Picard is seeking the return of about $83 million he says are excess profits received by the Sterling defendants, including members of the Wilpon family. He also seeks the return of more than $300 million in investment principal. Sterling lawyers insist that the money shouldn't be returned because their clients didn't know that Madoff was running a fraud and didn't ignore warning signals. Both sides have moved for a summary judgment before trial.

According to Picard's unredacted court papers, co-owner Saul Katz at one point invested with Madoff to take advantage of the investment earnings rather than taking out key disability insurance on certain Mets players. The account used became known as "Saul's cookie jar," according to Picard's filing.

A spokesman for Sterling couldn't be reached for comment Thursday evening. However, Sterling's lawyers were expected to file their own papers late Thursday night.

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