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No cease fire in Wilpon fight with Madoff trustee

Mets owner Fred Wilpon talks to reporters before

Mets owner Fred Wilpon talks to reporters before a 2011 spring training workout. (Feb. 17, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Former Gov. Mario Cuomo's effort to settle the $1-billion battle between the New York Mets' owners and the trustee for Bernard Madoff's victims has made little headway, making it likely the team will stay under a financial cloud well into the baseball season, if not beyond.

Sources familiar with the case and outside legal experts point to the latest exchange between the two sides in the form of dueling news releases and court filings.

"I don't think there is anything magical Mario [Cuomo] can do," said attorney Howard Kleinhendler of Manhattan, who represents other Madoff victims.

None of the experts expect any meaningful developments until after a bankruptcy court hearing on June 29 on a motion by the owners, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, to dismiss a lawsuit by trustee Irving Picard.

Until then, Wilpon and Katz will continue to struggle with the financial uncertainty that led them to put up to 25 percent of the Mets for sale.

Picard's amended complaint last week said the owners and their Sterling Equities business empire had to restructure $500 million in bank loans after Madoff's fraud was exposed and their accounts with him became worthless. The Mets also are on the hook to repay more than $500 million in special bond financing for Citi Field.

Cuomo was appointed mediator on Feb. 10 by bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland and has said both sides want to settle the case. He didn't return calls for comment.

But continued court skirmishes are a sign that neither Picard nor the team owners are giving ground, said lawyers who have been involved in other Madoff-related cases.

"I think the mediator has lost control of the parties who are now exacerbating the situation, throwing punches at each other during mediation," said Jerome Reisman, a Garden City attorney who also represents Madoff victims.

Reisman was referring to the way Picard beefed up his complaint against Wilpon and Katz last week and how the team owners fired back Sunday with a motion to dismiss the trustee's complaint.

The Mets owners' move triggered future legal deadlines that make it unlikely that a settlement could be reached before the All-Star break in mid-July, at the earliest, experts agreed.

Spokesman for Picard and the owners wouldn't comment on the status of negotiations.

Picard has demanded the Wilpons repay $300 million in Madoff profits that he maintains were stolen from other customers in the Ponzi scheme. The amended complaint also seeks $700 million in damages.

"The trustee is not going to settle," Kleinhendler predicted.

The Wilpons also show every sign of hanging tough, said an attorney familiar with Madoff-related lawsuits who didn't want to be named.

"Any time you draw a line in sand with litigation, you make it hard to settle," the attorney said.

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