NEW YORK -- The trial to determine how much money Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz must pay to a trustee charged with liquidating the estate of former financier Bernard Madoff is set to begin Monday in Manhattan at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. With U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff presiding, a jury of nine will determine whether the defendants can prove they were not "willfully blind" to Mafoff's Ponzi scheme. The proceedings, officially named Irving H. Picard v. Saul B. Katz et al, will be held in Rakoff's courtroom at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse. They are scheduled to begin with jury selection Monday morning and are expected to last up to three weeks.
Rakoff earlier this month determined that Picard may recover up to $83 million in fraudulent profits that Wilpon, Katz and their associates gained from dealings with Madoff. The plaintiff is seeking as much as $303 million more, which will be decided upon by the jury. Last week, Rakoff ordered that the defendants and not the plaintiff will have the burden of proof, meaning lawyers for the defendants will be charged with proving Wilpon and Katz knew nothing of Madoff's illegal investments and that there were no warning signs they ignored. Madoff, the former chairman of the NASDAQ stock market, in 2009 pleaded guilty to 11 federal felony charges. He is serving his 150-year sentence at a North Carolina federal prison. Wilpon first became an owner of the Mets in 1980 and in 2002 became chairman and chief executive officer of the franchise that entered the Major Leagues in 1962 and has won two World Series titles. Katz, who is Wilpon's brother-in-law, is the team's president. In 1972, they co-founded Sterling Equities, a firm that, as described in court documents, "owns and operates a number of businesses and invests in asset classes that include real estate, professional baseball, sports media, and private equity." Among the witnesses expected to be called by Mets lawyers will be Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, a childhood friend of Wilpon's. Lawyers for the defandants reportedly will attempt to use Koufax's testimony to suggest that Wilpon would not have led a lifelong friend to invest in a fraudulent scheme, which further suggests Wilpon knew nothing of Madoff's illegal activities. Some reports have suggested that the case, which has been in arbitration being overseen by former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo while heading toward trial, might be settled on the courthouse steps before the trial begins, but there have been no reports of the sides being close to an agreement. Assuming the trial goes forward, David Sheehan will serve as the lead attorney for the trustee and therefore the plaintiff, and Karen Wagner will lead the legal team representing Wilpon and Katz. Thus far, Picard says he has recovered $9 billion of $17 billion he seeks for investors who fell victim to Madoff's fraud.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.