Last month, the trustee for the victims of Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme sued Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, charging that they'd been "net winners," withdrawing more money from Madoff accounts than they'd put in. Currently, Wilpon and Katz are in talks to settle with the trustee, but the impact of the Madoff situation on the Mets organization is now coming into focus. Today, Wilpon announced that he's seeking "one or more strategic partners" to buy a portion of the Mets. Ever want to own a piece of a baseball team? Here's your big chance.
Wilpon said in a conference call today that he wouldn't be giving up principal ownership, and that they "may or may not do anything." When asked if there was any chance that he'd have to sell a controlling interest in the team, he repeated that he doesn't "see that at all," and that they're looking to sell "a minority interest in the 20 to 25 percent range." However, a person involved with the Madoff cases tells the Times that the trustee may be seeking as much as $1 billion from Wilpon and Katz, and that if that's the case, Wilpon could have to sell the team. Says that source: "I think he has a very serious problem."
At the very least, there's "uncertainty" (to use a word Wilpon used more than once today) with the Mets right now, between the lawsuit and settlement talks and now the search for the "strategic partners." But a Times' source paints a much bleaker picture, one echoed by a source of the Post's Bart Hubbuch. (The circumstances are different, of course, but Craig Calcaterra points out that the Rangers' Tom Hicks once spoke of "minority investors," too, not long before he sold the team. If nothing else, that shows that what Wilpon says today might not hold true in the coming months.)
The Mets are finally acknowledging that the Madoff mess has impacted their finances. How much they'll be impacted, however, still remains to be seen.