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Source: Mets to sell 10 shares of team

Mets owner Fred Wilpon talks to reporters before

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

The Mets expect to sell 10 minority shares of the team by the end of February, a person familiar with the process said Monday. The units, priced at $20 million each, would raise $200 million for the cash-strapped franchise and be used to pay existing loans and operating expenses for 2012.

It previously was believed that the Mets would close on a minimum of four units by the end of January. No reason was given for the new timetable or whether the closings would take place at the same time. None of the potential investors has been revealed. Major League Baseball has been involved in vetting the partial owners.

Earlier this month, principal owner Fred Wilpon expressed optimism about the process, but the Mets Monday had no comment on when the new investors will be in place.

Initial proceeds of the sales, those involved in the transaction have said, are earmarked to pay a $25-million loan the Mets obtained from MLB in November 2010 and a $40-million bridge loan from the Bank of America in the last quarter of 2011. The concept of selling up to 40 percent in smaller shares came after negotiations with hedge fund manager David Einhorn broke down last September over control issues.

General manager Sandy Alderson said the team lost $70 million in the 2011 season. It recently hired CRG Partners, a bankruptcy and financial turnaround consulting firm, to assist in fiscal matters. The team has said it will not seek bankruptcy proceedings.

Mets ownership also is contending with a lawsuit from trustee Irving Picard in the Bernard Madoff scheme. Picard last week filed a motion asking a federal judge to order the ownership to pay $83 million in so-called "fictitious profits" without having to wait for a scheduled trial in March. Picard also is seeking another $303 million but must prove "willful blindness" of the Wilpons to Madoff's scheme. Lawyers for the Wilpons and Saul Katz filed a motion last week saying that Picard could not prove "willful blindness."

Hearings on the motions are scheduled for February and a trial is set for March 19. It is unclear if an out-of-court settlement can be reached. Former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who is mediating settlement talks, was not available for comment.

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