Great Neck native Steve Cohen purchases majority ownership stake in Mets

Robert Pelaez
Great Neck native and hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen purchased a 95 percent stake in the New York Mets on Monday. (Photo from the Island Now archives)

Hedge fund billionaire and Great Neck native Steve Cohen has purchased a majority ownership stake in the New York Mets, he and the team said Monday.

The deal, which will remain tentative until at least 23 Major League Baseball owners approve the purchase, would value the Mets at $2.475 billion, according to multiple news reports, and Cohen would hold a 95 percent stake.

The earliest Cohen would take over control of the team after a vote from other MLB owners would be November. The deal would break the record for the most money paid for a Major League Baseball franchise.

“I am excited to have reached an agreement with the Wilpon and Katz families to purchase the New York Mets,” Cohen said in a statement.

The Mets also sent out a news release confirming the purchase and included Cohen’s previous statement.

Cohen is the CEO of Point72 Asset Management and has an estimated net worth of $14.6 billion, according to Forbes. In 2012, Cohen bought an 8 percent partnership stake in the team for $40 million.

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.

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.

Wilpon 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 with 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.

Since 2002, the Mets have been to the postseason three times and accumulated 50 more losses than wins, going 1,432-1,482. In 2015, the team made its’ first World Series appearance in over a decade, falling to the Kansas City Royals in five games.

After a wild card loss to the San Fransisco Giants the following year, the team has not made the playoffs since.

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