NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – Mets owner Fred Wilpon met the media on Thursday and sounded off against the massive lawsuit brought against his family by the trustee trying to recover money for victims of the Madoff Ponzi scheme.
“We did not know one iota, one thing about Madoff’s fraud,” Wilpon said at the Mets’ spring training complex. “We didn’t do anything wrong. If anything, we trusted a friend for a very long time.”
Wilpon and son Jeff, the team’s chief operating officer, said Jan. 28 they were exploring selling up to 25 percent of the franchise because of “uncertainty” caused by the lawsuit filed by Irving H. Picard. Picard is seeking at least $300 million from the Wilpons, team president and brother-in-law Saul Katz and related Sterling Equities entities.
Jeff Wilpon said Wednesday his family will be “victorious in the end.” The elder Wilpon echoed his son’s comments.
“We will be vindicated. What you have been writing about are allegations,” said Wilpon. “Allegations are not fact. We have to now come back and tell you what our facts are, based upon facts and based upon the law. And our lawyers are doing that and they will do that. And we will be vindicated. I can’t give you the timetable. That depends on issues beyond our control.”
While Picard claims the Wilpons and Katz were net winners from their Madoff investments and ignored warnings that Madoff’s high returns might be false, Wilpon said they are victims in the scheme.
“As I told you a few months ago,” he said, “that betrayal is very difficult for me because this was a man, who, we were friends for 35 years and investors for 25 years.”
Names ranging from Mark Cuban to Martin Luther King, Jr. have been said to have potential interest in owning the Mets.
Even Donald Trump is in the mix.
The New York real estate owner with a flair for publicity said Tuesday he wants to help the Wilpons.
“I hope that it works out well for the Wilpons because they’re friends of mine,” Trump said Tuesday during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “If they ever needed help, I’d be there to help them. If I could help, I’d love to help them.”
Fred Wilpon repeated Jeff’s statements of a day earlier that sale of a controlling interest is “not on the table” and assured fans the team will have the resources to be competitive.
“We have the resources in other businesses,” Wilpon said. “Every one of our other businesses are going very well, and this business has to be straightened out, no question about it. Every other business we have I like. This business, I love. I love the New York Mets.
“I’ve been around here for almost 32 years. This is part of my DNA, so we are going to do everything we can possibly to see that we bring competitive, winning teams here. We changed our whole baseball system. Now they have to bear fruit.”
Wilpon said new general manager Sandy Alderson asked for and will be given flexibility with payroll. Several large contracts expire at the end of the season.
“He didn’t want a year where he had a payroll here and couldn’t get any free agents, and he wanted flexibility over the next five or six years,” Wilpon said. “This year is a little different because we have some players that have not performed to their expectations, and we have to carry that or eliminate that. That’s up to Sandy. Sandy can do whatever he wants with any player that doesn’t make the grade here.”
Wilpon said he remains optimistic the Mets have potential to be a playoff contender in their first season under manager Terry Collins.
“We have some very good baseball players,” he said. “We have some young players, but just having good players doesn’t make a good team. I think Sandy and Terry and their staffs now have to mold the players we have into a good team, and we need a little luck like any team.”
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