NEW YORK – The owners of the New York Mets should be held accountable for letting their workers put more than $16 million in 401(k) assets into accounts controlled by jailed financier Bernard Madoff, a widow said in a lawsuit filed Friday.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan was brought against Sterling Equities Associates, which owns the Mets, and also named Fred Wilpon, the Mets chief executive officer and principle owner.
Sterling Equities and several of its top executives should have known that Madoff was carrying out a massive Ponzi scheme that cost thousands of investors billions of dollars, the lawsuit said. Madoff, 72, revealed the fraud in December 2008, pleaded guilty to fraud charges and is serving a 150-year prison sentence.
Sterling said in a statement Friday that the complaint has no merit, adding that its 401(k) plan and participants in the plan "were among the many victims of the Madoff fraud."
Sterling said the 401(k) plan filed a claim for its losses with the Securities Investors Protection Corp. or SIPC, which is authorized by Congress to guarantee brokerage accounts for a maximum $500,000, and assisted 401(k) participants with filing individual claims.
The court-appointed trustee who is recovering Madoff money for investors has said the Mets profited by nearly $48 million from their roughly $523 million in investments with Madoff.
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, said its plaintiff, Elyse S. Goldweber, was the beneficiary of the 401(k) plan built by her late husband, David A. Sloss. It said the majority of $280,420 in her husband's retirement plan was directly invested with Madoff "and has now been wiped out."
A statement sent March 31 said that she should not rely on the stated balance in the retirement account "in light of the reported theft by Madoff," the lawsuit said. The actual account balance cannot be determined, the lawsuit quoted the statement as saying.
The retirement fund had $16.2 million of its $17.6 million in assets, or 92 percent, invested with Madoff, the lawsuit said. It did not say how many employees or former employees were affected.
The lawsuit particularly took aim at statements by Wilpon that he and his business were not seriously harmed by the Madoff scandal.
"While defendant Wilpon has been quoted as claiming that he and his business family are 'fine,' his loyal employees (many of whom had previously been laid off) have lost their retirement savings," the lawsuit said. It added that an insurance policy does not come close to covering the losses.
"As a result of their massive exposure to Madoff, plaintiff and other class members have lost the majority of their retirement savings," the lawsuit said.
Investigators who are still trying to identify and collect Madoff assets for investors say the financier lost nearly all of the $20 billion invested with him even though he claimed in statements mailed to 4,800 account holders in 2008 that their investments were worth $68 billion.