The campaign to demonize the Wilpon family continues. To read some press reports, particularly in the New York Post, you’d think that Fred Wilpon, his son, Jeff, and their business partner, Saul Katz, were plotting with Mr. Madoff to steal the retirement savings of working people and the endowments of charitable organizations.
This is, of course, absurd. But facts and fairness apparently have nothing to do with the pursuit of a dignified but vulnerable New York family who had the bad luck to befriend a man, Mr. Madoff, who was unworthy of their generosity and affection.
Let’s set the record straight: The Wilpons were among Mr. Madoff’s victims. They were not, as some press reports would have you believe, his enablers. Reports about the apparently close relationship between the Wilpons and Mr. Madoff only compound the tragedy; the Wilpons were bilked not by a stranger but by a family friend. Too many people have concluded (with no evidence) that the friendship had sinister implications, and that the Wilpons must have known or suspected what Mr. Madoff was doing.
The lawyer for other Madoff victims, Irving Picard, is like a showboat slugger celebrating home runs before he even steps into the batter’s box. He hasn’t proved a thing, but he is more than happy to assail the character of the Wilpon family and the Sterling name, no doubt anticipating that the Wilpons will offer a fat settlement to make this matter go away. But Mr. Picard owes the public something more than insinuation. If he has evidence that the Wilpons acted improperly, he should share it, now. If he doesn’t, he should stop suggesting that the Wilpons benefited from their relationship with Mr. Madoff.
The Wilpons put their trust in Mr. Madoff, as other people and organizations did, to their everlasting regret. Now, as a result of that ill-starred and unfortunate relationship, the family is looking to sell a 25 percent share in the Mets, a team that clearly means the world to Mr. Wilpon even if he hasn’t enjoyed the sort of success that George Steinbrenner and his family brought to the Yankees. It’s possible that the family will have to unload an even greater share, or perhaps sell the team outright, thanks to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.
The Wilpons, of course, have the resources to absorb some of the damage inflicted by Mr. Madoff, which is regrettably not the case for some of the other victims. But that doesn’t change the fact that the Wilpons are victims themselves.
The Wilpons deserve sympathy, not scorn. If they are forced to give up control of the Mets, you can add the team’s fans and all New Yorkers to the long list of Bernie Madoff’s victims.