Mets owner Fred Wilpon insisted today that he knew "not one iota" about Bernie Madoff's multi-billion-dollar investment fraud, and that his family would be vindicated of any complicity in the multi-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme.
"We didn't do anything wrong," Wilpon said at the baseball team's Port Lucie, Florida spring training camp. "If anything we trusted a friend for a very long time, and as I told you a few months ago, that betrayal was very difficult for me."
"This was a man who we were friends with for 35 years and investors for 25 years."
A recent court filing by the trustee representing Bernie Madoff's victims, and a just-published interview with the Ponzi schemer himself, have renewed public scrutiny of the long business and personal relationship between the Madoff and Wilpon families, and raised questions about the fiscal health of the National League franchise.
While Madoff assured a New York Times reporter that the Wilpons were blameless, bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard has asked the Mets owners for $300 million and released emails showing that there were doubts about Madoff's profits within the Wilpons investment firm.
ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross told "The Charlie Rose Show" Wednesday night that representatives of Picard's firm say Madoff seems to be protecting "certain people," including "close friends who were mostly winners in this scheme," and that "Picard is going after [the Wilpons] in a very aggressive way."
"Between $300 [million] and $1 billion is the number that they think they'll get out of him," said Ross on "The Charlie Rose Show." "Three-hundred-million would be the fictitious profits they took out and then under the law if they can show that the Wilpons knew it was a fraud they're not supposed to get back the capital they put in initially."
CLICK HERE to watch Rose's interview with Ross.
The ties between the Madoffs and the Wilpons go back to Roslyn, Long Island, the New York City suburb where both families lived.
Bernie's son Mark and Fred Wilpon's son Jeff became close friends while in school. "Those kids grew up together, Jeff Wilpon and the Madoffs," said a former Madoff employee known as "Little Rick." "They were very good friends. They went out together." Jeff graduated Roslyn High School in 1980, and Mark graduated two years later.
"Through their children's friendship," alleges Picard's 370-page complaint, "Fred and [wife] Judith Wilpon became close friends with Madoff and his wife, Ruth." The Madoffs also became friendly with Saul Katz, Wilpon's brother-in-law and business partner in both the Mets and the investment firm Sterling Equities.
The Madoffs and the Wilpons served on the boards of charities together, and their families vacationed together on occasion. Bernie had Mets seasons tickets and he and Ruth traveled with the Mets in March 2000 when they played two games against the Chicago Cubs in Japan.
Picard's complaint also says that "Madoff was often invited to and attended family events of the Katz and Wilpon families," including bar mitzvahs of Wilpon employees' children.
"Madoff, in turn, often invited the Katz and Wilpon families to family celebrations," says the complaint, "such as the weddings of his sons and cocktail parties and dinners at his home."