The case against the owners of the New York Mets is moving forward, as they are charged with knowingly reaping the benefits of investing with jailed Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.
As the New York Mets prepare for another baseball season, lawyers for the team's owners are prepping for something that can hardly be called a game. A nine-person jury will soon be charged with deciding whether the owners and their affiliates owe up to another $303 million to the trustee overseeing Bernard Madoff's former firm.
The trustee claims Fred Wilpon and others intentionally ignored red flags about Madoff's scheme, a claim lawyers for the team's owners reject.
"They're looking forward to the trial," said Robert Wise, a lawyer for Sterling Properties.
The attorney for the trustee declined comment. His case rests on a tough legal gamble, the jury must find the Wilpons practiced "willful blindness."
"Willful blindness literally means what it says. You have to have been blind to the fraud, you have to have intentionally averted your eyes from that which you must have been able to see," said former federal prosecutor Randy Mastro. "That's a remarkably heavy burden for the trustee to have to carry to win the case."
The federal judge overseeing the case has already ruled the Wilpons and others have to give back their gains from Madoff, up to $83 million. The Mets have slashed payroll and sold minority shares.
The Amazins were hardly that last year. They had 77 wins and 85 losses, and finished second-to-last in the National League East. Attendance has shrunk and some say the Wilpons should sell.
Still, Mastro does not think the Mets' unpopularity will be a factor in trial.
"I think people who have knee-jerk reactions on this could end up being very wrong about how they assess juries on this context. Jurors apply their common sense," said Mastro.
How Mets fans should take all of this is unclear. Asked by NY1 if he had any message to Mets fans, Wise laughed and said, "No."
The trial is expected to last about three weeks, and it begins on March 19 with jury selection.