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The Wilpons fire back

Feb 3, 2011, 6:15 AM EDT

Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon

After yesterday’s New York Times story alleging that the Wilpons steered others toward Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme, the Wilpons have decided not to take this lying down. The Wilpons’ lawyer to the Daily News:

“We believe the complaint is baseless, both factually and legally. We have conveyed that to the trustee’s counsel. Fred Wilpon, Saul and the other partners did not know that Bernie Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme.” … None of the evidence, they added, suggests Wilpon and his associates knew that Madoff was engaged in the massive fraud that earned the former Wall Street star a 150-year prison sentence.

An anonymous source close to the Wilpons added “this is total extortion.”  And while the Wilpons or their lawyers have to be mindful of what they say publicly, Mike Lupica doesn’t, and today he rails at the bankruptcy trustee and the Times coverage, calling it a smear and calling Wilpon a victim in all of this.

A court will ultimately weigh in on all of this, so neither yesterday’s Times story nor today’s News story decides anything, of course.  Each can and probably should be read as a p.r. offensive by the bankruptcy trustee (Times story) and the Wilpons (today’s story in the News).  That doesn’t mean that anything in either story is false. It just means that we can’t take it at face value. Every plaintiff I have ever known has began a case by painting the defendant as an evil doer. Every defendant I have ever known has claimed that he’s the victim of a shakedown. This is par for the course.

What will really shed the most light on what’s going on is when and if the pleadings in the case are unsealed, as multiple media outlets are currently seeking to have done.  Because it’s one thing to leak or say something to a newspaper. It’s a totally different thing to say something in a legal document. Allegations in the complaint and subsequent filings by the trustee must be made in good faith and he is subject to legal sanction if they are truly “baseless” or if the case is really just “total extortion.”  I’d like to see those allegations and the exhibits the trustee contends supports them.

I suspect this settles before then. But I would really like to know what the trustee thinks he has on the Wilpons. Wouldn’t you?

  1. Paul White - Feb 3, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Mike Lupica railed at something? Gosh. Knock me over with a feather. (Or whatever is the opposite of that when you’re not surprised in any way by the news you just heard. Knock me over with a ton of bricks? Knock me over with Bengie Molina? I feel we need consensus on this.)

  2. sdelmonte - Feb 3, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    I usually trust the Times with news, and with coverage of sports, but when sports and hard news collide, they aren’t much better than anyone else. I wouldn’t say that I thought the article was a hatchet job so much as it took a PoV that the Wilpons were guilty of something that most of Madoff’s victims weren’t. I really can’t judge the facts on that, but my gut tells me that the Wilpons’ biggest crime was trusting their broker. I guess someone with that kind of money should know better. But a lot of people and organizations who Madoff caught should have known better, too, and I don’t see them being grilled as much. (Then again, I wonder what Picard will do with any non-profits that didn’t lose money, assuming any exist. It’s easy to called businessmen greedy. Less so to call a charity.)

    • browngoat25 - Feb 3, 2011 at 10:08 AM

      check out this report:
      scroll down to the chart of Madoff recoveries – apparently, some $80 million has been returned from charities and nonprofits…

  3. BC - Feb 3, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    I’m not-so-secretly praying that this leads to the Wilpons selling the Mets.
    PS. Lupica is a chipwich.

  4. mrznyc - Feb 3, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    Like a late Christmas for Mets fans – The good news keeps on comin’

  5. Jonny 5 - Feb 3, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    Mr. Wilpon appears to be offering some sort of bribe in that picture above. As if he were a broke stripper trying to find their way out of a traffic ticket.

  6. chrisny3 - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    Finally, some balance. After all the unethical leaks and hatchet jobs attempted by Picard’s staff and media outlets such as the New York Times.

    Craig, just about every point I tried to make to you yesterday was echoed in the two Daily News articles — the one by Lupica and the other by Thompson & O’Keefe — over the last 24 hours. You accused me of being naive or only wanting to hear good news and I told you all I wanted was the facts without spin. So if you think I had my own bias and naivety, then you have to accuse Lupica and Thompson & O’Keefe of of the same bias and naivety since they have taken the same position as I did. You can call me biased and naive all you want if it puts me in the same company as Lupica, Thompson and O’Keefe.

    Something else that the Daily News article corrected which you failed to note today, and which I was arguing about yesterday —

    The NYT’s hatchet-job article painted the Mets money and business as being closely intertwined and that was the jumping off point for your article yesterday and part of the basis for your calling Wilpon dishonest. Well in the Daily News, Thompson and O’Keefe essentially say that that portrayal by the NYT’s was inaccurate. Here is the salient quote:

    “The News reported Sunday that some deferred money from player contracts may have been invested with Madoff but that those deferred payments are not in jeopardy and have not been associated with Madoff accounts for several years. Major League Baseball requires an accounting by each team of its total deferred compensation in July of each year and the Mets have satisfied that requirement, according to a baseball source familiar with deferred money issues. “Their accounts are segregated,” said the source. “They’re 100% clear.””

    So there is a lot to take issue with the NYT’s article that you based your column on yesterday. As I said, I had a problem with both that article and your using that article as a jumping off point to smear the Wilpons/Katz yourself.

    Bottom line is that what Picard alleges in the lawsuit in terms of any complicity in the scheme is false. If he had evidence the Wilpons knew of the scheme as it was going on, criminal charges would have been brought against them by now.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 3, 2011 at 1:44 PM

      Please do not tell me that you don’t think that the News story is every bit as much of a spin job as you claim the Times story to be. They’re both spin jobs.

      As for your quotes, the Times stuff talked about what the Mets did with their deferred money before. The “100% clear” stuff talks about current status. That does not mean that the Mets were not investing deferred money in Madoff accounts at one time, and the News story even admits this. That is evidence that the Wilpons were deeply connected to Madoff in terms of their investments (it does not mean that they were in cahoots with his scam, of course). The point, however, that the team had many connections to Madoff investments is undeniable.

      • chrisny3 - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:57 PM

        Yes, the two DN articles were a “spin job” to try to get the story back to more neutral, fair and subjective ground. To try to paint a picture more in tune with REALITY. I believe the truth is closest to how the Daily News is painting the picture. Not how Picard and the NYT’s are trying to twist things.

        It is not really relevant what the Mets did with their deferred money BEFORE the Madoff scam fell apart (ie, the Cashen money owed which by the time of the scandal in 2008 was no longer on the books). The only question that is relevant to the “team” is what their exposure in Madoff was at the exact time he was arrested. Did the Mets (vs. Sterling Equities) have significant investments with Madoff at that point in time? Even if you take at face value the negative spin that the you and the NYT’s put on the information revealed in their article yesterday, it’s not clear. The deferred money of a few players is a mere pittance — chump change — in relation to the overall finances of a team like the Mets. Now you have the Daily News article which seems to question even those small investments being with Madoff at the end of 2008. According to them, those monies “have not been associated with Madoff accounts for SEVERAL YEARS.” Granted, it’s not clear the monies were actually separate at the time the scheme fell apart, but it implies they were.

        No one has ever questioned whether the Wilpons or even the Mets had lots of investments with Madoff at least IN THE PAST. As soon as the scandal broke back in 2008, it was widely reported that Wilpons and Sterling Equities had hundreds of accounts invested with Madoff. That is not new news, though the NYT’s has recently tried to paint it as such and sensationalize it.

        Again, the ONLY question which has been relevant to the Mets (and the larger baseball community) is what was the exposure of the TEAM itself at the time the scam fell apart.

      • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 3, 2011 at 2:59 PM

        “I believe the truth is closest to how the Daily News is painting the picture. Not how Picard and the NYT’s are trying to twist things”

        And your basis for this is …?

      • chrisny3 - Feb 3, 2011 at 3:54 PM

        BTW, I hope the Wilpons play hardball in any negotiations with Picard. Many of those who he has already sued are claiming he is far overreaching and are refusing to settle. One of them is Chase bank. I hope this goes to court instead of the Wilpons just capitulating to Picard’s outrageous demands. The thing is, Fred Wilpon is an old man who probably has no appetite for a long protracted court fight. He also doesn’t want any confidential baseball or personal financial information revealed which might happen in such a legal fight. I’m pretty sure that is why ideally he wants to settle — and not because Picard may have any damaging information regarding any role Wilpon/Katz may have had in the ponzi scheme.

      • chrisny3 - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:00 PM

        “And your basis for this is …?”

        A reading of the indisputable facts which have been reported up to now … and my knowledge of the franchise and its ownership from having followed the team closely as a fan over the last 20 years or so.

      • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:06 PM

        Well, looks like we’ll find out soon. Negotiations are off. Trustee has agreed to have all the documents unsealed. Seems that the Wilpons’ little PR offensive rubbed him the wrong way:

    • chrisny3 - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:10 PM

      I’m sure they knew that would happen by fighting back. It was a calculated and acceptable risk as, obviously, they weren’t getting far in the negotiations.

      • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:12 PM

        My lord, are you on the Wilpons’ payroll? On what planet is this a good development for the Wilpons?

      • chrisny3 - Feb 3, 2011 at 4:28 PM

        LOL, no I am not on the Wilpons payroll. I have never met them. Nor am I associated with them in any way other than being a fan of the team they own.

        If you noticed, it was Wilpon’s legal team who fought back. You don’t think the folk at Davis Polk Wardell knew what they were doing when they piped up? Do you really think they thought Picard would be more likely to settle if they criticized him? They full well knew what they were doing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if talks had already broken down prior to the legal team speaking to the Daily News reporters yesterday.

        There’s one thing that’s more important than money, and that’s a person’s good reputation. Even if the Wilpons lose on the money front in a court battle, they will still be very rich.

      • Reflex - Feb 3, 2011 at 5:11 PM

        Starting to wonder if you are a sock puppet. There is *no* way this is good news for the Wilpons….

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