Can Picard Pull off a Squeeze Play by Using His $5.2 Million Lawsuit Against JASA to Place Pressure on Saul Katz of the Mets? – Installment 61

October 21, 2011Articles White Collar Defense & Compliance Blog

A continuing theme of this blog series on Madoff has been the perplexing and inconsistent manner, virtually to the point of arbitrariness and unfairness, with which Trustee Irving Picard has handled charities that invested with Madoff. Installment 60 in this series had only been posted for a few hours when Picard again reaffirmed his erratic behavior in this area. This time, however, Picard may have other purposes for his actions as well.

On October 14, 2011, Picard filed a lawsuit ( Picard v. Jewish Association , 11-ap-02773, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan) (the “JASA Lawsuit”) against Jewish Association for Services for the Aged (“JASA”) to recover $5.2 million in “fictitious profits” allegedly withdrawn by JASA during the Madoff scam for a six year period prior to the Madoff bankruptcy proceeding. Founded in 1968, the nonsectarian mission of JASA is to sustain and enrich the lives of the aging in the New York metropolitan area so that they can remain in their homes and communities with dignity and autonomy.

The JASA Lawsuit is in stark contrast to the continuous and relentless efforts of Picard to recover both alleged fictitious profits and principal distributed to the charitable private foundations of the Wilpon/Katz families, the owners of the New York Mets. Moreover, absent other purposes, the JASA Lawsuit is in inexplicable contrast to the settlement that Picard made with Hadassah in March 2011 to allow Hadassah to keep permanently $32 million of a stated $77 million of fictitious profits that it received from Madoff, as described in Installment 48 and earlier Installments of this blog series,

Installment 47 reported that the Forms 990 for 2009 of Hadassah posted on GuideStar showed total unrestricted consolidated net assets for Hadassah of almost $653,000,000 and more than $1,000,000,000 in total net assets as of December 31, 2009. Yet Picard allowed Hadassah to keep $32 million of Madoff fictitious profits. Picard’s diverging treatment for JASA is evidenced by its Form 990 (the “JASA Form 990”) for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010 (“Fiscal 2010”) that reflects net assets of $8,856,783. A successful clawback from JASA by Picard of $5.2 million, plus the costs of the litigation to JASA, would eliminate 60% or more of its net assets as of June 30, 2010, clearly a crushing or even death blow to its mission.

In Installment 45 and Installment 17 of this series, Diana B. Henriques, author of an acclaimed book on Madoff, was quoted as having written on May 28, 2009 in The New York Times:

There is the widespread fear among some — unfounded, Picard says — that he will sue struggling charities or people of limited means for money they withdrew in the past but no longer have.

It is clear that in the case of JASA, the fear was not at all unfounded.

A closer look at the circumstances of the JASA matter reveals that Picard appears to be using the JASA Lawsuit for several potential purposes:

1. Commencing a new case against a venerable, visible and vulnerable charitable defendant to counteract or overturn the ruling issued by Judge Jed S. Rakoff in the Wilpon/Katz/Mets case that limited to two years (rather than the six years that Picard is seeking in the JASA Lawsuit and generally) the period for recovery of fictitious profits in the Madoff case. There are many potential defendants other than JASA against whom Picard could have brought such a lawsuit.

2. Placing a new type of external pressure on, and discomfiture for, Saul B. Katz, one of the owners of the Mets, who is a long-time major donor to, and, according to the JASA Form 990, a JASA Board member and Chair of its Executive Committee. The Form 990-PF for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2008 of the Saul and Iris Katz Family Foundation that is posted on GuideStar reveals contributions totaling $75,000 to JASA that year, the fiscal year immediately prior to the Madoff bankruptcy, and the last fiscal year for substantial contributions by the Foundation. The continuance of the Board relationship of Katz is confirmed by a June 2011 filing by JASA.

3. Subjecting JASA to heightened pressure to (a) distance itself from Katz in light of the costs and adverse media publicity of the JASA Lawsuit and (b) settle the JASA Lawsuit on terms acceptable to Picard that can damage materially the future viability of JASA.

Contrary to his earlier quoted statement, the new initiative by Picard against JASA endangers the financial stability of a struggling charity and its long time charitable mission. Shame on you, Mr. Picard.

[To be continued in Installment 62]