NEW YORK – A trustee trying to recover money for victims of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff is demanding $300 million from the partnership that owns the Mets, which he says were fake profits from the massive fraud, according to a lawsuit unsealed Friday.
The suit in federal bankruptcy court in Manhattan names Sterling Equities, along with its partners and family members, including Met owner Fred Wilpon, team president Saul Katz and chief operating Jeff Wilpon, the owner's son.
It alleges the partnership "received approximately $300 million in fictitious profits" from hundreds of accounts opened with Madoff's firm. Of that, $90 million of "other people's money" were withdrawn to cover day-to-day operations of the Mets.
"Given Sterling's dependency on Madoff, it comes as no surprise that the Sterling partners willfully turned a blind eye to every objective indicia of fraud before them," the suit by trustee Irving Picard alleges.
In a statement Friday, Fred Wilpon and Katz called the suit "an outrageous strong-arm effort to force a settlement by threatening to ruin our reputations and businesses we built for over 50 years."
The pair called the allegations "abusive, unfair and untrue," insisting they were victims of the fraud.
"We should not be made victims twice over -- the first time by Madoff and again by the trustee," they wrote.
The suit has cast a cloud over the Mets ownership, which has said it's exploring a partial sale of the team.
Madoff, 72, is serving a 150-year sentence in a federal prison in North Carolina after admitting that he ran his epic Ponzi scheme for at least two decades, using his investment advisory service to cheat thousands of individuals, charities, celebrities and institutional investors.
Losses are estimated at around $20 billion, making it the biggest investment fraud in U.S. history.