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New York Mets owners settle for $162M in Madoff-related case

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Oct. 29, 2010: FILE - This photo shows New York Mets owners from left, Jeff Wilpon, Saul Katz and Fred Wilpon during a baseball news conference in New York. The Mets owners and a trustee for Bernard Madoff's fraud victims have settled for $162 million. (AP)

The New York Mets owners and a trustee for Bernard Madoff's fraud victims settled Monday for $162 million in a case aimed at repairing the damage from a massive investment scheme.

The Mets owners will not pay anything for three years.

Jury selection had been set to begin in a civil trial to determine how much the team owners will owe other investors who trusted their money to Madoff, who cheated thousands of investors of roughly $20 billion over at least two decades.

Trustee Irving Picard had argued the team owners knew that Madoff's corrupt investment scheme was a fraud but continued their investments anyway because they were making a lot of money. Lawyers for the owners insist their clients had no idea the investments were a sham.

The case has damaged the Mets' financial picture, forcing the team to slash payroll and try to raise tens of millions of dollars by selling small chunks of the team.

Both Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, principal Mets owners, expressed relief outside the courthouse and Katz said the team's finances were secure.

"Now I guess I can smile. ... Maybe I can take a day off," Wilpon said.

Judge Jed Rakoff said Picard had reviewed the evidence and will no longer pursue a claim of "willful blindness" against the defendants.

"I am very, very pleased for ourselves and our families. This was really a team effort," Wilpon said as he left the courthouse.

"We are not willfully blind... We acted in good faith," he said. He said he was going to Florida Tuesday to resume work at "trying to bring the New York Mets back to prominence." Asked if the Mets will have to raise any more money through other investors and he said: "We'll address that."

Katz said he was "very pleased to have this behind us." He said outside the courthouse that the Mets were on secure financial footing. "Always was," he said.

David J. Sheehan, the lawyer for trustee Irving Picard, said outside court that the settlement enables the Mets owners to try to recover the $162 million through the efforts Picard makes to recover $178 million in claims the Mets owners have made against the Madoff estate. "In a sense, we're now partners."

Rakoff already had ruled the team's owners must pay up to $83.3 million in profits they received from Madoff.

But another ruling blocked Picard from trying to collect the full $1 billion he sought to recoup. He has filed hundreds of lawsuits to force those who profited from their investment to pay into a fund for Madoff's victims.

Dodgers Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax had been scheduled to testify in the trial about Wilpon's intentions. Koufax invested in Madoff's private investment business at Wilpon's recommendation.

"Although this is something of an anticlimax, it is always helpful and positive when the parties are mutually able to resolve their dispute," Rakoff said.

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