Swift deal needed in Mets Madoff dispute: mediator

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By Grant McCool

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mediation would not "go on endlessly" if no deal were reached between the owners of the New York Mets baseball team and the Madoff trustee in their $1 billion dispute, mediator Mario Cuomo said on Thursday.

Trustee Irving Picard is seeking to recover about $300 million of "fictitious" profits as well as principal from Sterling Equities Inc, which controls the Mets, and owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz. The trustee contends the owners long ignored red flags about Bernard Madoff's fraud, the biggest in financial history, which touched people in all walks of life.

Wilpon and Katz say they too were victims of Madoff, who was arrested in December 2008, pleaded guilty three months later and is serving a 150-year prison sentence. Wilpon has said he may sell part of the team because of the litigation.

"We're searching or working toward a swift or swifter resolution in order to save money -- it's very expensive -- and avoid if we can, very long litigation," Cuomo told reporters at Manhattan federal court after listening to an appeals court hearing over claims by former Madoff customers.

"If they can't make a deal we are not going to go on endlessly," said Cuomo, 78, governor from 1983 to 1994 and a lawyer at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. His son, Andrew Cuomo, is the current governor of the state.

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Cuomo said he was limited in what he could do and although he did not have a specific timetable "we are working on it every single day."

Bankruptcy Judge Burton Lifland, who is overseeing the Madoff cases filed by the trustee to recover money, appointed Cuomo.

Thursday's appeals court hearing ended without a ruling by a three-judge panel, which some former Madoff customers had asked to overturn Lifland's approval last year of the trustee's formula by which he determined claims of thousands of investors.

The former Madoff customers reject Picard's method, based on how much they put into the firm minus how much they withdrew over the years. They argue their claims should be determined by the amounts in their accounts as of November 30, 2008, two weeks before the massive Ponzi scheme was revealed.

The case is Picard v. Katz et al, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 10-ap-05287.

(Reporting by Grant McCool, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)