Thursday, February 17, 2011

Madoff not doing the Mets any favors

Listening to Fred Wilpon’s press conference, I tried to imagine what goes through his mind when the name Bernie Madoff is mentioned or whenever he talks to his lawyers about how to get out of the mess created by his old pal.

I can only imagine the mixture of sadness, hatred, frustration and the other emotions Wilpon and his family are dealing with right now. But my guess is that yesterday the dominant sentiment was something along the lines of "gee, thanks a lot, Bernie" now that Madoff decided to defend Wilpon against accusations that he should have known about the gigantic fraud his friend was perpetrating. If Madoff had been a real friend, he never would have involved Wilpon in his scam in the first place.

The imprisoned Madoff has zero credibility so his assertion that Wilpon was in no way involved nor had any inkling about the fraud means nothing. But I found Wilpon’s words to be quite illuminating, particularly when he talked about putting money into Madoff’s firm three weeks before the massive fraud unraveled. I do find it hard to believe that he would have done so if he had suspicions that Madoff was dirty. And I do believe his love for his family and his baseball team would have caused him to go running to the cops and regulators if he had come across anything resembling actual proof of the scheme.

That being said, Wilpon does have to answer for his admitted naivetĂ©. In talking to people about the Madoff scandal, I’ve found a surprising number of folks who have little sympathy for his victims because of the idea that they should have known that their returns were too good to be true and that they let their greed get the best of them. I don’t feel that way at all, especially about the pensioners who trusted Madoff with their retirement funds. But it’s hard to make the case in defense of Wilpon, a savvy businessman who helped turned the Mets from sad-sack losers to a legitimate, and at times very successful, enterprise. Even if he didn’t have solid proof of the fraud, there were enough questions being raised by others that he should have paid a lot more attention to than he did.

For legal reasons, Wilpon is extremely limited in what he can say publicly. But he insisted yesterday he is just another victim of Madoff, not a conspirator, and that he and his fellow lawsuit defendants will be vindicated. For the sake of the Mets, he really needs to be right.

Thanks to the US Department of Justice via Wikipedia for the photo.

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