March 13, 2012 — -- Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax has been named as a witness in a trial over whether the owners of the New York Mets, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, knew of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme when they withdrew approximately $300 million in profit from his firm.
The former pitcher for the Dodgers (first in Brooklyn and then Los Angeles) was a childhood friend of Fred Wilpon and fellow investor in Madoff's firm, is among a dozen witnesses submitted Tuesday by lawyers of the Mets co-owners, according to court documents.
Court-appointed bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard has filed over 1,000 lawsuits against former Madoff investors to reclaim billions of dollars of investments lost by the majority of other investors. He claims that the foreknowledge of investors such as Wilpon and Katz allowed them to withdraw enough money to come out way ahead of other losers. Picard's civil suit against the Mets owners, first filed in 2010, claims that the two knew or had reason to know of Madoff's illegal actions but turned a blind eye in order to avoid their own loss and gain a "fictitious profit" of about $300 million.
Lawyers for Picard have attempted to block the testimonies of Koufax and three other witnesses claiming that the individuals have "high profile and impressive credentials" but do not sufficiently know whether the Mets owners had knowledge of Madoff's fraudulent activity.
Picard initially made efforts to force the owners to pay out as much as $1 billion, but U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff narrowed the amount owed to no more than $386 million.
In a March 5 ruling, Rakoff stated that the owners must pay as much as $83 million, but a jury will decide as to another possible $303 million. Rakoff said that Picard must prove that Wilpon and Katz were "willfully blind" to Madoff's actions in the trial set to begin next week.
Arguing against Koufax's testimony, Picard's lawyers said, "The defendants clearly intend to attempt to improperly persuade the jury that they are 'good' because they associate with good people, or have done good works, and as such they cannot be guilty of anything as untoward as willful blindness to fraud."
In response, the defense's lawyers wrote that "the jury can conclude that it strains credibility to think that Mr. Wilpon would expose his oldest and closest friend to potential financial ruin -- for no benefit to Mr. Wilpon himself -- if he subjectively believed that Madoff Securities might be operating a Ponzi scheme."
Wilpon, close friend of Madoff, claimed in 2011 that he was the victim, having blindly trusted Madoff for 25 years. Madoff himself attempted to absolve the Wilpons of any blame in an interview with the New York Times.
The Madoff and Wilpon families have been close ever since Madoff's son, Mark, and Wilpon's son, Jeff, became friends in Roslyn High School on Long Island, NY. Consequently, the Madoffs also became friendly with Wilpon's brother-in-law and business partner Saul Katz.
Bernie Madoff is currently serving a 150-year sentence for his $65 billion Ponzi scheme that he ran for 20 years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.