December 3, 2023

A Mets Owner and Claims of Consumer Fraud

In March 2012, a group of online retailers was sued in federal court, accused of having participated in a cynical and longstanding scheme to cheat customers out of millions of dollars. One of the named defendants is Inc., which says it is the world’s leading florist and gift shop.

The plaintiffs said the system worked this way: a customer, perhaps racing to buy flowers online for Mother’s Day, would enter a credit card number, click “Purchase,” and then be offered a cash-back rebate. If the customer clicked on the rebate option and failed to read the fine print, however, he or she wound up registering for a near-worthless club membership that would charge the credit card for months, sometimes years, before the expenses on the credit card statements were detected. Outfits like received a cut of the operation, what regulators and others have called “bounties.”

A recent legal filing by lawyers in the case asserted that “1-800-Flowers was well aware that its customers were getting defrauded.”

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed in Connecticut last spring, the founder and chief executive of officially became a minority owner of the Mets. The company executive, James F. McCann, had been selected by the team’s owners as one of a handful of investors whose infusion of cash was needed to help rescue the Mets from a financial crisis.

The team’s owners, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, have never told the public, or fans, the identity of the emergency investors — and new part owners. But McCann, whose company has long been an official sponsor of the Mets, and whose advertisements are prominently displayed at Citi Field, has acknowledged that he now owns a small chunk of the team.

It is unclear if Wilpon and Katz knew that McCann’s company had been accused of defrauding customers.

But a review of’s legal problems makes clear that the 2012 lawsuit is hardly the first time someone has accused McCann’s business of knowingly participating in defrauding customers — with some of its victims quite possibly Mets fans, given the company’s aggressive marketing to the team’s loyal supporters.

Two years ago, a lawsuit was filed in federal court in Long Island claiming consumer fraud and racketeering violations against and other companies, alleging they had worked together to “levy unauthorized charges on the unsuspecting consumers’ credit or debit card accounts” by inducing customers to pay for memberships to discount clubs without their knowledge.

That lawsuit, now in the process of being consolidated with the Connecticut case, came after the New York attorney general at the time, Andrew M. Cuomo, launched an investigation into the “discount club” industry, finding that and other companies had “tricked” consumers into signing up for these memberships that charged them hidden fees.

There were also Senate investigative reports, issued in November 2009 and May 2010, that prominently cited for its aggressive online sales tactics, saying the Long Island-based flower firm had been paid more than $10 million for allowing others to engage in what the report described as “post-transaction marketing.”

A spokesman for McCann and would not comment for this article but said in an e-mail that the matters raised “are more than two years old, have been largely resolved and have been previously disclosed in our company’s public filings.” Last month, Inc. said in a regulatory filing that it intended to defend itself vigorously in each of the outstanding lawsuits.

But in a 2010 settlement with the New York attorney general, the company paid $325,000 and promised to end practices Cuomo’s office had called “fraudulent,” at least as they related to the company’s New York customers. The company neither admitted nor disputed claims of wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

The settlement noted that had since removed the solicitation and membership club enrollment link from its order confirmation page.

A spokesman for Wilpon and Katz and the Mets declined to comment on McCann’s legal entanglements.

In 2008, when Bernard L. Madoff was arrested and his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme collapsed, Wilpon and Katz, as longtime Madoff clients with investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, had their financial empire upended. Things got worse when, late in 2010, the court-appointed trustee representing Madoff’s victims sued Wilpon and Katz for $1 billion, saying they had enriched themselves for years while ignoring warnings that Madoff was up to no good.

Wilpon and Katz, as a consequence, went in search of cash. The men needed to repay some of their debt and deal with operating losses that rose to $70 million in 2011. The men ultimately decided to raise $200 million by selling 10 to 12 shares in the club, each representing a 4 percent ownership stake. Eventually, 12 were sold, but only a small number went to true outsiders.

One of those outsiders is Steven A. Cohen, the head of SAC Capital Advisors, a $14 billion hedge fund at the focus of an intensifying government investigation into insider trading. Cohen has not been accused of wrongdoing and may never be, but last month federal prosecutors charged a former portfolio manager with a $276 million insider trading scheme that for the first time connected Cohen to some questionable trades. Prosecutors have called the most recent case against an associate of Cohen’s the most lucrative insider trading case in history.

McCann, while technically an outside investor, is an old friend of Wilpon’s. McCann has long been part of a group that every season visits spring training at Port St. Lucie, Fla.

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Want a Piece of the Mets? It Helps to Fit the Profile

He almost certainly works in finance, and he probably roots for the Mets.

Who is he? He is one of the men angling to buy a minority share of the Mets.

The general profile of the known bidders for the Mets is not surprising, but it lacks the diversity of team owners who built ships (George Steinbrenner), sold cars (Bud Selig), co-founded Home Depot (Arthur Blank), erected shopping malls (Herb Simon) or started Microsoft (Paul Allen) with Bill Gates.

It makes sense that rich native Long Islanders would want a piece of the Mets despite their recent dismal on-field record and hefty financial losses. About one-quarter of the Mets’ fan base comes from the New York suburbs of Nassau and Suffolk Counties. A locally bred fan in the prime of his career — with lots of money — might be more willing than an outsider to accept a stake in the team that gives him no control. And in an economy in which Wall Street is faring better than most industries, a New York team can attract cash from financial executives.

“New York is where you’d think the money would come from,” said Rob Tilliss, the founder of Inner Circle Sports, a sports investment bank and adviser. “There are enough local buyers around the New York metropolitan area with substantial money.”

The sale for a limited partnership is nearing its final stage as the owners look at three offers for up to 49 percent of the Mets. Fred Wilpon, the Mets’ principal owner, was 43 when he bought a small piece of the team in 1980. He is from Brooklyn, whence people fled farther east; lives on the wealthy North Shore of Nassau County; put the headquarters of his company, Sterling Equities, in Great Neck; and made his money in real estate. His former partner in the Mets, Nelson Doubleday, was also a wealthy Long Islander, who published books.

More than 30 years later, Steven A. Cohen fits the parameters of the modern, updated profile. Cohen, a billionaire hedge fund manager in Connecticut, is 54. He runs SAC Capital Advisors, a powerful $12 billion hedge fund in Stamford, where the former Mets manager Bobby Valentine is the public safety director, and lives in Greenwich, Conn., where Tom Seaver lived before turning to winemaking. Cohen, who is from Great Neck, has a suite at Citi Field.

Anthony Scaramucci, also a hedge fund manager, is the profile personified. He is 47. He grew up in Port Washington. He lives in Manhasset. He delivered Newsday as a youngster. He took the Long Island Rail Road to Shea Stadium to watch the Mets. And Valentine gave him a blurb for his book, “Goodbye Gordon Gekko.”

Scaramucci still appears to be in the running to pay up to $200 million for less than half of the Mets, along with a neighbor in Manhasset, James F. McCann, whose son, Matt, works for Scaramucci.

McCann is 59, from Rockaway, Queens (a borough that is still a geographic part of Long Island), and while not a Wall Street Master of the Universe, runs a business,, from Carle Place on Long Island.

McCann has a direct connection to the Mets through his sponsorship of the team.

Steven Starker, another Wall Streeter, is from Brooklyn (also geographically part of Long Island) and was a founder of BTIG, a global trading firm. Two of his bidding partners also have Long Island roots. Kenny Dichter, a co-founder of Marquis Jets, and Doug Ellin, who created the HBO series “Entourage,” are 1986 graduates of Kennedy High School in Merrick, which last year inducted them into its hall of fame. The status of their offer for the Mets has not been determined. But it is typical of a process like the one being run by the investment firm Allen Company to ask finalists to improve their bids.

David Heller and Marc Spilker epitomized the investor profile, too, but they are out of the bidding. They are fabulously rich Mets fans, in their 40s, from Long Island. Spilker graduated from W. C. Mepham High School in Bellmore. Heller is a global co-leader of Goldman Sachs’s securities division. Spilker was a Goldman executive but is now president of Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm.

One of the first men in his 40s to voice an interest in the Mets was Mike Repole, the owner of the Kentucky Derby hopeful Uncle Mo. He is 42, grew up in Middle Village, Queens, lives on Long Island and made his wealth when Coca-Cola paid $4.1 billion for the company he co-founded, Glacéau, the maker of Vitaminwater. He balked at bidding without getting any control over the team.

Still another bidder, about whom little has been heard, is Jason Reese. He is in the financial world, as chairman of an investment bank called Imperial Capital in faraway Los Angeles. Still, he is a native Long Islander who played goal on the West Babylon High School lacrosse team and later for Yale.

One pair of bidders who have dropped out barely fit the profile. Leo Hindery, a media investor, and Marc A. Utay, managing partner of a private equity firm, work in Manhattan. But Hindery is from Washington State and Utay from Glenview, Ill.

The current profile of the Mets’ bidders resembles, to some degree, that of Joan Whitney Payson — an heiress whose main home was in Manhasset, and who, in her late 50s, became the first owner of the Mets, and their most ardent fan.

Peter Lattman and David Waldstein contributed reporting.

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