Wilpon Addresses Doubts Over Madoff Losses and Mets
Fred Wilpon, the Mets’ principal owner, tried Friday to temper concerns that he and his team had been scarred financially by the losses caused by a vast Ponzi scheme run by his former friend Bernard L. Madoff. He said he had no intention of selling the team.
“I’m fine, my family’s fine, my business family’s fine,” Wilpon said by telephone from Aspen, Colo., where he was vacationing. His son, Jeff, the team’s chief operating officer, made similar remarks shortly after Madoff’s $65 billion fraud was revealed in December. But Fred Wilpon felt the need to emphasize again that the finances of the team had not been affected.
Although he did not divulge what he, his business, Sterling Equities, or his family had lost — “that’s personal stuff,” he said — he noted that the estimates of the losses were wildly inaccurate and wildly high. One estimate of $700 million was reportedly made to GQ magazine in March by the talk show host Larry King, a friend of Wilpon’s who is also a Madoff victim.
“Larry told me that he never said a specific number, only that it was a vast number,” Wilpon said.
The same figure was used by Erin Arvedlund, author of “Too Good to Be True,” a new book about the Madoff fraud, in an interview with Marketwatch.com on Friday. She predicted that the losses would cause Wilpon to sell the Mets, as soon as 2010.
“It’s a matter of when,” she said.
But Wilpon, who would say only that his Madoff-related investment losses were “significantly” below $700 million, said the Mets were an “emotional asset” that he was not selling. He said he would not sell even to recoup the money stolen by Madoff.
Wilpon paid $135 million in 2002 to buy out Nelson Doubleday’s half of the team, and the team’s value has appreciated greatly since then.
“My long-term goal has always been to have my son and my grandchildren involved with the Mets, if they choose to be, and Jeff has chosen to be,” Wilpon said. “Would I sell a building on whatever street, in whatever city? I have no problem with that. I have no emotional attachment to them.”
The Mets “are part of our lifestyle, what we feel in our hearts,” he said. “You feel great when they play well, you feel wounded when they’re not. The team is what we want for our next generation. It’s for them.”
The Mets, hampered by injuries and poor play, are in fourth place in the National League East with a 58-71 record. Nearly all of the team’s stars — Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Johan Santana — are on the disabled list, as have been lesser players. The team’s accumulated woes have created a dismal product for Wilpon to sell in the first season at Citi Field, where 94 percent of the season’s tickets have been sold for a far smaller ballpark than its predecessor, Shea Stadium.
“It’s been a difficult season,” Wilpon said.
Bob DuPuy, the president of Major League Baseball, said that the Mets’ financial reports, which are filed quarterly, like those of other teams, have shown no financial distress or need to worry about the team’s long-term future under the Wilpons.
“It’s business as usual,” DuPuy said. “I’ve only seen distress in the performance on the field and in the injuries. But I’ve seen enormous satisfaction in the reception for the new ballpark, which has generated significant new revenue. I’m confident that the only disappointment for the Wilpons is that they expect a pennant-contending team every year, and they thought they had one at the start of this season.”
Wilpon’s businesses, including the Mets, are privately held, making it extremely difficult to verify his or DuPuy’s assertions. Wilpon said that the Mets were proceeding, as they usually do, into planning for next season. The resources available to him — revenue from luxury suites, club seats and a nearly 70 percent stake in the SNY network and his real estate holdings — have not been compromised by Madoff, he said.
“Are we all saddened by what Bernie Madoff did to our family? Yes,” he said. “But we’re probably more saddened by what he did to people who can’t fight back, who are really affected financially. To be betrayed by a friend is a burden. You don’t expect that to happen. I’ve known him for 30 years.”
Wilpon, his family, friends and employees of Sterling Equities fill many pages on the list of Madoff victims. Also among the defrauded investors are Sandy Koufax, the Hall of Fame pitcher and a friend of Wilpon’s; the former Met Tim Teufel and his wife, Valerie; the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Mets minor league team; and the Wilpon family foundation.