Amazin' Mess

February 4, 2011 1:06:16 PM PST
If the money's just rushing in like water, how closely would you look at the source?

How much scrutiny would you apply if you had a hunch - or more than a hunch - that your profits, hundreds of millions of dollars, were tainted?

Oh sure it's easy to say you'd immediately try to find out the truth. Perhaps that's because hundreds of millions is a figure - a concept - that is and will always be foreign to most of us.

But think of your own life, and how many times - be honest - you've looked the other way when it's been convenient not to focus on the truth? Talking about little things here.

All of which is not to excuse what the Wilpon family - the owners of the New York Mets - have been accused of doing with their ill-gotten profits from the Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff. Madoff is now serving a 150-year federal prison term. And the Wilpons, some of his biggest clients and "friends" of his for more than 20 years, are now caught in their own kind of prison: A lawsuit filed by the Madoff bankruptcy trustee, who alleges that the Mets owners and their partners owe upwards of $300 million in illegal profits. In fact, one extrapolation by the trustee puts the total ill-gotten profits at upwards of $1 billion.

The lawsuit - unsealed today after negotiations for a settlement broke down - claims that the Mets owners became intoxicated by the money they made from Madoff's swindle. Too drunk, apparently, to listen to the voices, external and internal, that none of this was kosher. At least that's what the trustee claims.

The Wilpons say the claims are not true, and insist they did not know or suspect Madoff was a swindler.

The Wilpons last week held a Let's-Make-A-Deal news conference call to say they were looking for a minority partner - for a 20-25% ownership stake - so they could pay the $48 million they supposedly owed to the Madoff trustee. This partner would have no say in the operations of the team, but maybe they'd get a close-to-the-stadium parking space and, of course, a cool luxury box. Maybe even a Mets hat.

Now, if we're to believe the trustee's allegations that the Wilpons owe $300 million, and if I'm doing the math right, then the Wilpons would have to sell the team to pay the piper.

I suspect we won't hear that dire assessment of things from the Wilpons - at least not right away. But I don't think you have to be a Harvard MBA to pencil out the logical conclusion to this sordid and rather sad saga.

There's another angle to this swindle fallout that will trouble Mets fans (who are already an emotionally beleaguered bunch) and New York taxpayers. The trustee claims that the Wilpons used some of these phony profits to run the baseball team. That means buying expensive players, and, we assume, contributing to the construction of CitiField stadium, to which taxpayers also contributed.


We'll have the latest on the trustee's allegations, and Wilpon's response, tonight at 11. Also at 11, the story of NASA Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, husband of wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Kelly is set to take off in April on the last flight of the shuttle Endeavor - which would be Kelly's last flight as well.

The decision he had to make: Does he fly - and dive into all the training that requires - or does he stay with his wife during her rehabilitation, which is expected to take months if not years?

Not exactly the typical conundrum faced by most of us. But you can just imagine the internal debates he went through. You can also imagine Giffords telling him, "of course you should fly." And that's what he's going to do.

Meteorologist Lee Goldberg tonight is tracking another storm - number 9 since Christmas if you're keeping score. It's not huge, but, as Lee says, a storm is a storm. Lee leads our coverage at 11.

And Nina Pineda tonight looks into whether trip or travel insurance is really worth it. And she's focusing on the parents of BJ Raji, the Green Bay Packers lineman who flew to Wisconsin to watch their son play the New York Giants over Christmas weekend. You remember Christmas weekend, don't you? The blizzard? Raji's family got stuck in lovely Wisconsin for four days, on the hook for a rental car and living expenses. Would trip insurance have helped in that case? With all the storms roaring across the country, this story resonates. Which is why we gave it to Nina, and 7 On Your Side.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, right after a special edition of 20/20, during which Barbara Walters interviews fellow heart surgery patients David Letterman, Regis Philbin, Robin Williams, and Bill Clinton.


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