UPDATED: Addresses "net loser" and "net winner" aspects which may allow Sterling to avoid paying any money to the Madoff victims
$162 million. Likely less.
That’s the amount that could ultimately be collected in a settlement today between the owners of the New York Mets and the trustee for the liquidator of Ponzi scheme titan Bernie Madoff’s law firm. Irving Picard, the trustee for the Madoff victims had argued that Sterling Equities, the owner of the Mets that includes Fred and Jeff Wilpon, as well as Saul Katz, had made “factious profits” by willfully ignoring that Madoff was involved in activities around the largest Ponzi scheme in US history.
The settlement reached deals with $162 million that were withdrawn by the Sterling parties during the six-year period prior to Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC liquidation.
US District Judge Jed Rakoff had ruled on March 5 that Sterling must pay at least $83 million. The jury trial could have seen total payment to the Madoff victims hit $303 million. The settlement today, which ends the continuous legal battle, stems any more red ink from flowing as it relates to the Madoff situation, and allows the club the ability to have some closer sense of cost certainty.
According to a statement by the Madoff Recovery Initiative:
The essential terms of the agreement, which are subject to certain approvals, are that the Sterling parties have agreed to pay a sum to the BLMIS Customer Fund equal to 100 percent of the fictitious profits of approximately $162 million that were withdrawn by the Sterling parties during the six-year period prior to the BLMIS liquidation proceeding -- the District Court had previously ruled that the Sterling parties were liable for fictitious profits spanning only the two-year period prior to the liquidation proceeding -- and that the SIPA Trustee has elected to dismiss the amended complaint that alleged that the Sterling parties were willfully blind to the fraud conducted by Bernard L. Madoff.
The Sterling parties’ customer claims – which total approximately $178 million – will be allowed in full and will be entitled to recovery on the same basis as other BLMIS customers. The Sterling parties’ allowed claims are now assigned to the SIPA Trustee and any pro rata distributions will be used to reduce the Sterling parties’ settlement obligation.
That ruling prior was an $83 million summary judgment, that is rolled into the now $178 million settlement.
However, is $178 million what will ultimately be paid by the owners of the Mets, and are the Wilpons and Saul Katz now free from worry that they might lose the club? The answer is, they could wind up paying less, and regardless, unless some major calamity unforeseen hits them, they should now be able to address other debt concerns such as paying construction bond payments and getting the club righted.
The Mets released a series statements after the settlement:
Statement from Robert F. Wise Jr. from Davis Polk
“The settlement that was announced in court this morning brings to an end the litigation and affirms that Mr. Wilpon and Mr. Katz and their partners acted at all times in the utmost good faith—that they were not willfully blind. The trustee has expressly said in the settlement that after reviewing all of the evidence, he has decided to drop the willful blindness claims. The settlement amount is based on the withdrawal of profits during the six-year period before the Madoff bankruptcy and is on the same basis as all of the other settlements that the trustee has concluded with other good faith victims of the Madoff fraud. The Sterling Partners’ claims against the bankruptcy estate will be honored in full and they will be treated the same way that the claims of all the other Madoff victims have been treated. Until the end of the fourth year, all of the payments on the $162 million will come from the recoveries against the Madoff estate. Mr. Wilpon, Mr. Katz, their families, and their partners are pleased to have this litigation over with and behind them. They look forward to moving ahead.”
Statement from Saul Katz
“We’re pretty pleased to have this behind us. As we’ve said all along, the fact is we have done everything in good faith. The settlement itself bears that out—that we’ve acted in good faith. I want to thank all my friends who backed us during this period of time, and our lawyers from Davis Polk who were incredibly supportive and critically helpful during this incredibly difficult time, and now we’re moving forward, which is the most important thing. We can now refocus our lives on taking care of our families, our business, and our community involvement. So I thank you very much.”
Statement from Fred Wilpon
“I am very pleased for ourselves and our families to get the litigation behind us. I want to thank everybody, because this really was a team effort. Our partners were fantastic— our families were behind us and our friends. Mario Cuomo did a great job—he never gave up. As we’ve said from the very beginning when this lawsuit started, we are not willfully blind, we never were, we acted in good faith, and we’re very pleased that this settlement bears that out. That’s very important to us. Now I guess I can smile—maybe I can take a day off, but I can’t wait to get back to our businesses which I love. The first order of business and the first priority will be getting down to Florida tomorrow, getting to the spring training camp, and trying to bring the New York Mets back to the prominence that our fans deserve and the City of New York deserves.”
What will be interesting is seeing if the total amount of $162 million will need to be paid. Jon Heyman said via Twitter, “Wilpon/Katz hope to recover 70 percent of $178 million on loser funds (or $125 million). If they do, they’d only be out $37 million.”
Heyman is likely referring to the claims that Sterling made to, oddly enough, Irving Picard. The ownership of the Mets claimed that they were “net losers” not “net winners” as Picard had claimed. Now, with the $162 million settlement at hand, if Picard is able to garner enough money through his collecting on “net winners” through Madoff investments, the Mets could collect as much as $178 million through their claims. If Picard is unable to collect the entire $162 million, Sterling has guaranteed to pay as much as $29 million.
For fans asking what this all means for the organization in terms of forcing the sale of the club, the answer is no. While other factors could impact the club in meeting debt, for now Sterling is simply wounded from the legal case, but not dead. As they have always contended, Sterling plans on holding onto the Mets for some time, and with today’s settlement, that will likely be the case.
A key question will be how Sandy Alderson moves forward. The Mets GM has been slashing payroll to record levels. Today’s settlement may mean that moves to address the hemorrhaging of red ink tied to the Madoff case dwindles. It is not over, but at least a jury trial that could have hit the Mets with $300 in additional losses is off the table, and Irving Picard becomes a historical footnote rather than a continuing presence for the Amazin’s front office. Sterling is here, Mets fans. Get used to it.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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