The Securities Investor Protection Corporation ("SIPC") filed documents opposing an effort by Sterling Equities, consisting of owners of the New York Mets baseball team, to dismiss trustee Irving Picard's suit seeking $1 billion transferred by Bernard Madoff. During a hearing on July 1 in New York federal court, United States District Judge Jed S. Rakoff questioned the viability of Picard's approach, which seeks not only to recover the $300 million in false profits above Sterling's initial investment, but also the $700 million of initial principal on the notion that the Mets' owners knew or should have known of the fraud through their extensive dealings and relationship with Madoff. SIPC is in agreement with Picard that a reading of bankruptcy law permits the trustee's approach.
The vast majority of actions filed by Picard have sought only fictitious profits above and beyond an investor's initial principal. This course of action is pursuant to Section 548(c) of the Bankruptcy Code, which states that a transferee who receives funds that would otherwise be subject to avoidance under the Code is entitled to retain those fund when the transferee gives value and the transfer is taken in good faith. Picard has not pursued such a position in nearly all of his lawsuits, instead seeking the return of profits from so called "net winners" of Madoff's scheme for pro rata distribution to defrauded investors aptly termed "net losers."
Picard alleges that Sterling Equities and its principals should have been alerted to the nature of Madoff's scheme through numerous red flags and warning signs. Additionally, their involvement in litigation seeking the return of principal and fictitious profits from an investment in the Bayou Superfund, which was later revealed to be a massive Ponzi scheme, should have also alerted Sterling to Madoff's fraud. Instead, as Picard and SIPC allege, the profitable nature of the relationship with Madoff caused the Sterling defendants to ignore these warnings. As SIPC states,
The long-term nature of the relationship and its scope enabled the Defendants to gain insight into Madoff and his operations. In the face of such knowledge, the actions of the Defendants, as alleged in the Complaint, are proof of the Defendants’ lack of good faith, and their inability, therefore, to establish good faith as a defense to the Trustee’s fraudulent conveyance claims against them.
A copy of SIPC's Motion Opposing the Sterling Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is here.