Madoff Woes Force Mets Owners To Seek Buyer

Wilpons face multimillion-dollar lawsuit, may sell minority stake in team.

Jan. 28, 2011 — -- The owners of the New York Mets, who are being sued for millions by victims of Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, announced today that economic "uncertainty" is forcing them to consider selling a 25 percent interest in the team.

Fred and Jeff Wilpon, who were both investors with Bernie Madoff and friends with the Madoff family, said on a conference call with reporters Friday that they were looking to sell a 20 to 25 percent minority stake in the National League franchise, which had an estimated worth of $858 million in 2010.

"To address the air of uncertainty created by this lawsuit," said the Wilpons in a letter to Mets fans published Friday, "and to provide additional assurance that the New York Mets will continue to have the necessary resources to fully compete and win, we are looking at a number of potential options including the addition of one or more strategic partners."

On Dec. 7, 2010, the trustee representing Madoff victims filed suit against Sterling Equities, the Wilpons' investment firm, because the company was deemed a "net winner" in Madoff's multi-billion-dollar investment scam. According to trustee Irving Picard filing, the Wilpons withdrew $48 million more from their Madoff accounts than they invested.

The Madoffs and the Wilpons have been friends for years. Bernie Madoff's son Mark, who recently committed suicide, was friends with Jeff Wilpon when both were growing up in Roslyn, Long Island.

The Wilpons and financial advisor Steve Greenberg, managing director of Allen & Company, said that they were exploring many different options, including looking for strategic partners and looking at various banks and insurance companies. They said they had not received any pressure from Major League Baseball to pursue a new partner because of the Madoff lawsuit.

"The Mets have been a major part of our families for more than 30 years and that is not going to change," said the Wilpons in their letter to fans.

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On the conference call, the Wilpons and Greenberg declined to discuss any details of the lawsuit or contingent liabilities for a potential buyer.

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