Mets owners settle Madoff suit

Mar 2012 // American Public Media's Marketplace

Kai Ryssdal: Whatever other problems they’re going to have this year — say on the field come Opening Day in a couple of weeks — the New York Mets aren’t going to have Bernie Madoff to deal with anymore. Today, just as their trial was about to start, the owners of the Mets settled a lawsuit over Madoff’s massive fraud. They’ve agreed to pay back some of the money they made in that now-infamous Ponzi scheme. The ballpark number is $162 million.

Which, since there’d been talk of almost twice as much, helps ease the financial strain on the troubled baseball franchise. At the same time, it adds to a growing pile of money that’s been recovered on behalf of Madoff’s victims.

Our senior business correspondent Bob Moon has the update.

Bob Moon: Legal experts say today’s deal could encourage settlements in other pending cases against banks, investment funds and hundreds of individuals. Tom Ajamie is a business law attorney.

Tom Ajamie: The allegations were that the facts of the fraud were so extremely obvious that one would have to turn a blind eye to not know this Ponzi scheme was going on.

The Mets owners denied the allegations. But Ajamie says the trustee representing Madoff’s victims has been especially aggressive in “clawing back” money from those who profited.

Ajamie: It sends a message that if you see signs of a Ponzi scheme, or you suspect something’s odd, you can’t just keep taking money — you have to be responsible. And you may ultimately have to pay back that money one day.

So far, more than $11 billion has been recovered, out of $17 billion Madoff took from investors. Law professor Peter Henning has been following the Madoff case at Wayne State University.

Peter Henning: It looks like investors could get maybe even as much as two-thirds of each dollar back, about 65 to 70 cents. And that’s far better than you see in most Ponzi schemes — if investors get back a dime.

Henning says it’s unusual there’s been so much money to recover. He notes that the biggest share — $5 billion — came from the widow of a single investor.

Henning: It ends up there are some deep pockets out there. You don’t see that very often in Ponzi schemes, because most Ponzi schemes tend to prey on middle-class and lower-middle-class, not the very wealthy.

Henning says only a small fraction of the recovered money has been distributed. Most of the funds are tied up in legal challenges, and he predicts it will take at least two or three more years to sort that all out.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.