On Friday, Irving Pichard, the trustee for the liquidation of Bernie Madoff’s investment company, amended his complaint in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, against Sterling Equities seeking $1 billion in recoveries due to “additional alleged fraudulent transfers of principal (that) occurred during the six years prior to December 2008” with Madoff who was found to be at the center of the largest Ponzi scheme in US history.
Sterling, the investment fund that is run by Mets co-owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, fought back on Sunday, filing a 107-page response seeking to dismiss the amended complaint based on Pichard making “false allegations” that sought to leverage Sterling into settling.
(READ THE 107 PAGE RESPONSE)
The filing states, in part:
“Customers of a registered broker receive special protection under federal and state securities laws. To avoid a broker’s payments to such customers, the Trustee must prove that the customer has forfeited customer status because he essentially knew that, instead of depositing cash with his broker for the purpose of buying securities, he was investing in a fraud and therefore the antecedent debt discharged by the broker’s payments was invalid.
“The undisputed facts demonstrate that the Trustee can prove no such guilty knowledge, nor any bad faith.”
The response adds that, “The Sterling Defendants should never have been targeted by the Trustee, nor put in such a position. They are victims. They were defrauded by Madoff. They are now being victimized again and harmed—both personally and as a business matter—by successive complaints, even though there is no factual or legal basis for the Trustee’s claims.”
The filing cites Peter Stamos, the outside hedge fund manager for Sterling, advising the Sterling partners to invest with Madoff right up until the Ponzi scheme was revealed.
“I’m embarrassed to say that I said to Mr. Katz on a number of occasions that my assumption is that Mr. Madoff is the most honest and honorable man, among the most honest and honorable men that we will ever meet,” said Stamos under deposition. “Number one. And, number two, that he is perhaps one of the—my assumption is he’s perhaps one of the best hedge fund managers in modern times. . . . [The first assumption was b]ased on his reputation, based upon his long track record, based upon having seen him receive these awards and the positions that he held as chairman of the NASDAQ, having built this great company. He was, quite frankly, legendary, to all of us. And I stood in awe of that with Mr. Katz, and I assumed that.”
An interesting aspect of the response filed by Sterling centers on Pichard’s claims that “Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz” are “sophisticated investors.” In the deposition cited, Katz and Wilpon are portrayed as not being as such.
“Q. Do you understand—do you consider yourself a sophisticated investor? . . . I’m talking about in the stock market, not in real estate or anything else.
[S. Katz]. In the sophisticated, in today’s world of derivatives that are going on, the answer is no. . . . I don’t do well in the markets, the stock market. I’m not good at it, it’s not my business. I don’t have an active trading account anywhere.”
* * *
“Q. Did you understand how Madoff was making money off of his investment business?
[F. Wilpon]. Not in any kind of depth.
Q. Well, what do you mean by not in any kind of depth? Did you have any understanding?
A. I’m not an investment person, I’m not an investment, stock investment advisor, so I wouldn’t have that kind of expertise.”
The Mets continue to try and sell a minority stake in the club that will allow them to deal not only with the fallout from the Madoff scandal, but declining attendance. According to the NY Post, the league has approved three potential bidders that were vetted by the investment bank Allen & Co.
The groups include one led by the team of Goldman Sachs' David Heller and Apollo's Marc Spilker, and another including Steve Starker, co-founder of the global-trading firm BTIG and Ken Dichter, the co-founder of Marquis Jet as potential New York Mets owners, sources said.
At least one or two additional bidders have also been passed along to the MLB Commissioner, and could be cleared to bid for the team, sources said.
The club is no longer able to add more debt due to new rules from MLB. Recently, due to the Texas Rangers bankruptcy, the league enacted protections to keep any club's distressed debt from being gobbled up by “vulture hedge funds” such as Monarch Alternative Capital.
To add to the Mets woes, The WSJ reported recently that, “Executives at Time Warner Cable Inc. and Comcast Corp. would be unlikely to allow the owners of the New York Mets to sell part of their stake in the jointly owned regional cable channel Sportsnet New York, according to people familiar with the executives' thinking.”
All this comes as the Mets will begin having to pay player payroll, and their $22 million construction bond for Citi Field comes due at the end of June.
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