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New York Mets: 'Bailed Out' Again?

Stocks in this article: C FNM FRE AIG JPM BAC WFC

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The New York Mets already got one "bailout" from Congress. Could they be in line for another?

The Mets' first indirect bailout came via Citigroup (C). When Congress approved the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), it allowed the Mets to hang onto the $400 million in naming rights they got from the bailed-out banking giant for agreeing to call their new ballpark Citi Field.

Now Rep. Gary Ackerman (D., N.Y.), whose Queens district includes Citi Field, has introduced legislation that would prevent trustees from clawing back money from investors in Ponzi schemes like the one conducted by Bernard Madoff that came apart when his sons reported him to federal authorities in 2008.

Mr. Met
Mr. Met, Mr. Met. Step right up and meet Mr. Met...

Clawbacks are a way of helping investors who lost money in a Ponzi scheme. Some investors with Madoff, whose fraud went undetected for years, withdrew more than they put in. While they may have thought what they were withdrawing was investment gains, it was actually just fresh money being added by other investors.

Clawbacks would likely hit the Mets' owners pretty hard, because they actually netted $48 million from their dealings with Madoff, according to reports from The Wall Street Journal and the New York Daily News. Citing bankruptcy filings, the newspapers reported that the Mets Limited Partnership withdrew about $571 million from two accounts with Madoff, after having put in $523 million.

Perhaps expecting to lose their legal battles over the Madoff money, the Mets signed just one free agent in the off-season, much to the dismay of their fans. The front page of The New York Times Friday noted that attendance at Citi Field is down nearly 7,000 fans per game compared to last year, the worst decline in Major League Baseball. Maybe the six members of New York's congressional delegation who are supporting Ackerman's bill are afraid the team will end up in New Jersey if they don't step in. Buck up, folks: At least you've got the Yankees.

The Mets' political contributions couldn't possibly be a factor in the proposed legislation. After all, Sterling Equities, which owns the Mets, was only the 14th largest donor to Ackerman in the 2008 election cycle, giving him $9,812 -- barely enough for a cab ride from Queens to Washington, D.C.

Ackerman told TheStreet that neither the Mets' owners nor their representatives communicated with him about the legislation.

"I don't know how the Mets made out in the end," Ackerman says. "My recollection is, initially looking at this thing, they had lots of accounts in Madoff." The congressman conceded he is a Mets fan but says his wife is a far bigger one.

Mets owner Fred Wilpon

Several calls to Sterling Equities executives, including Fred and Richard Wilpon, and Saul Katz, were not returned, nor was a call to a Mets spokeswoman. An email message and phone call to Karen E. Wagner, an attorney who, according to this New York Times article, appeared in court to advocate for the Wilpon family in relation to the Madoff case, were not returned.

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