Cohen enters ‘exclusive negotiations’ to purchase majority share of Mets

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Great Neck native and hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen is reportedly nearing a deal to become a majority shareholder of the New York Mets. (Photo from the Island Now archives)

Hedge fund billionaire and Great Neck native Steve Cohen has entered “exclusive negotiations” to purchase a majority stake in the New York Mets, according to multiple media reports. 

Cohen was one of several interested parties, including one consisting of Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez, who submitted bids to purchase a majority stake in the franchise in July. Reports indicated that a tentative agreement between the two parties is expected soon. CNBC first reported the development on Friday evening.  

Cohen is the CEO of Point72 Asset Management and has an estimated net worth of $9.2 billion. In 2012, Cohen bought an 8 percent partnership stake in the team for $40 million.

According to Charles Gasparino of Fox Business Network, Cohen told the team’s current majority owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon he would pay $2 billion for the team, and an additional $2 billion for SportsNet New York, which has broadcast the team’s games since 2006.

Huffington Post contributor Laura Goldman reported the bid for the broadcasting network was around $1.5 billion.  An informal survey of Major League Baseball owners Goldman reported on showed that none would accept a bid for the Mets below $2 billion.

Gasparino later said other bids for the team at the time were lower, which indicated Cohen’s bid to be the lead one.

Efforts to reach Cohen and the Mets for comment were unavailing.

Cohen’s initial proposal of $2.6 billion in December was rejected by team ownership in February. The proposed deal would have increased Cohen’s ownership of the team from 8 percent to 80 percent.

Sterling Partners, the company that runs the franchise, is headed by Fred Wilpon and Mets’ President Saul Katz, who is Wilpon’s brother-in-law. The company is a diversified, family-run group of companies, whose portfolio consists of real estate, sports and media in the New York area.  

In 1980, Wilpon purchased a 1 percent stake in the Mets. He and Nelson Doubleday Jr. of the Doubleday publishing company agreed to purchase the team for $81 million in 1986, less than a month after it won the World Series.  Sixteen years later, Wilpon bought out Doubleday’s 50 percent stake in the company for $391 million.

After the man behind the $64 billion Ponzi scheme, Bernard Madoff, was arrested in 2008, questions arose as to how close his connections were to the Mets and longtime associate  Wilpon. 

Both he and Katz founded their real-estate development company, Sterling Equities in 1972. Thirteen years later, a year before splitting ownership in the Mets, Wilpon invested $3 million with Madoff. 

According to The New York Times, more than 500 accounts that Madoff possessed could be tied to Wilpon and Katz.

While a majority of the fan base has rejoiced in talk of the Wilpons’ days being numbered with the organization, Cohen’s track record is less than pristine.

In 2013, Cohen’s hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors pleaded guilty to insider trading charges after being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, eventually coming to terms on a $600 million settlement.

A Vanity Fair article in June 2013 portrayed U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York as the Ahab to Cohen’s Moby Dick and described Cohen as the central figure of seven years of investigations that led to convictions or confessions from 71 people.

Michael Steinberg, a former top trader at SAC Capital, was charged with four counts of securities fraud and one count of conspiracy in 2013. 

The charges against Steinberg were subsequently dismissed after the case was abandoned in 2015 after U.S. prosecutors said the case was no longer consistent with the law. He and Cohen are both alumni of Great Neck North High School.

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