Wilpons Settle with Picard for $162 Million but Buy Valuable Time and a Share of Potential Future Picard Recoveries – Installment 72

March 19, 2012Articles White Collar Defense & Compliance Blog

Today, before the start of a jury trial and after months of intensive and often acrimonious exchanges of briefs and motions in court and posturing in the media, a settlement was reached between Madoff Trustee Irving Picard and the numerous defendants - the Wilpon-Katz-Mets individual, business, family trust and charitable interests (the “Wilpons”). While the agreed upon Memorandum of Understanding (the “Memorandum”) requires the Wilpons to pay $162 million (the “Settlement Payment”) to Picard, a closer review of the terms of the Memorandum reveals that the Wilpons appear to have negotiated a very favorable result, perhaps actually an outright victory, in their efforts to keep control of the Mets for reasons including the following:

1. Rather than the Wilpons’ risking a potentially distasteful and embarrassing public jury trial that could have resulted in an adverse judgment of more than $380 million, followed by an almost certain appeal, the Wilpons agreed to a Settlement Payment of “only” $79 million more than the $83 million judgment already outstanding in the case.

2. The Wilpons will pay no money toward the $162 million out of their own pockets for three years; the only payments during that period would come from potential recoveries for the Wilpons by Picard from the Wilpons’ collective claims as victims in the Madoff scheme(“Customer Claim Recoveries”) as victims in the Madoff scandal, aggregating an estimated $178 million.

3. The Trustee agreed to a two-year installment payment plan for the Wilpons beyond the first three years for any remaining unpaid amounts on the Settlement Payment (less any additional Customer Claim Recoveries during such two-year period).

4. The fact that Picard is allowing the Wilpons to offset Customer Claim Recoveries against the Settlement Payment is a valuable and perhaps unexpected dividend that has established the Wilpons as stakeholders in the ultimate Picard recoveries and has likely converted the Wilpons into cheerleaders for future Picard successes.

5. The certainty that has been brought about by the Memorandum now quantifies the liability of the Wilpons and promotes their ability to sell minority interests in the Mets that have been so far delayed and postponed for many months.

6. The focus on the litigation and the accompanying expenses and angst will now be dissipated, and the Wilpons can concentrate on refinancing and rebuilding the Mets.

7. The personal guarantees of the Settlement Payment by Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz are limited to a total aggregate amount of up to $29 million.

8. Potential dissension and conflicting testimony at trial among the families, businesses, family trusts, charities and friends of the Wilpons has been avoided.

9. The risks and sensationalism of a jury trial have been avoided.

There are a number of contingencies in the Memorandum to be satisfied by April 13, 2012, including the receipt of required approvals to the terms by lenders to the Wilpons and the parties’ agreement upon definitive documentation. These would not appear to be major obstacles at this point.

On the eve of the jury trial, almost no journalist had written about the possibility of settlement, except Richard Sandomir and Ken Belson of The New York Times in their article on March 18, 2012, “Prospect of Jury Trial in Mets’ Madoff Case May Push Sides Toward Settlement.” Why then, would Picard have agreed to what appears to be such a favorable result for the Wilpons? Some of the possibilities are as follows:

1. While there have been a number of important rulings by Judge Jed S. Rakoff that are adverse to the Trustee in this case, it is at the trial court level. Although such rulings have value as authority in other cases, they are not binding precedent for any other judge or case. If Picard had to appeal an adverse final result in the Wilpons’ case, he could have received a negative result at the appellate level that would have been binding precedent.

2. Picard has taken increasing public criticism for the legal fees in the Madoff matter, which have now exceeded a quarter billion dollars. As large a number as the Settlement Payment may be, it pales in comparison to a number of other cases brought by Picard with potential billions of dollars at stake. The Trustee can now focus on these cases more fully.

3. The Trustee wanted to obtain a significant recovery from the Wilpons, not drive them out of business, in view of the many new complexities that such a result would have brought.

4. The risks and sensationalism of a jury trial have been avoided.

There still may be items of interest or surprise flowing from this case before the final definitive agreement is inked between Picard and the Wilpons. This blog series will follow them.

[To be continued in Installment 73]