Either Fred Wilpon’s filings are lying about his debts or he is
When Fred Wilpon stood before approximately two dozen reporters at the Mets' spring training complex in Port St. Lucie and declared that his financial problems were "in the rear-view mirror," he must not have meant to say that they were actually behind him.
"It was a balance there, because we had to make sure the banks got paid off all of the debt," Wilpon said. "There's no one in my family—there's the Katz family, the Wilpon family, kids—[that now] has any personal bank debt. Zero. Everything has been paid. We don't owe a dollar to anybody. We have mortgages on buildings and stuff like that, but we don't owe a dollar."
Of course the debt that has been crippling the Mets for years now isn't personal family debt, but the $320 million against the team due in 2014, and the $700 million against Wilpon and his partners' 65 percent stake in S.N.Y. That is due in 2015, and is significantly larger now, thanks to the additional loan against that holding taken out in December.
So the news about his family's personal finances would actually have been insignificant in terms of the only thing that matters, from a sports perspective, which is when the Mets can stop shrinking their payroll and start expanding it again.
But leaving that aside: what Wilpon said, even about his personal debt, is demonstrably false.
When he spoke on Wednesday, the Uniform Commercial Code filings included 39 separate filings of personal debt against Wilpon or his family. And those are just filings that include a Wilpon last name; many more are under Saul Katz, Wilpon's brother-in-law and Sterling Equities partner, and his family.
The data in those filings had been updated through Monday, so it remained at least theoretically possible that Wilpon was telling a kind of truth, exuberantly trumpeting the clearing of personal debt while using that limited victory to suggest to reporters that his business debt had been retired, or to hope at least that they didn't make the distinction.
But the U.C.C. database has now been updated through 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, about 12 hours after Wilpon spoke. The same 39 personal, unlapsed debt filings from Wilpon and his family remain on file under Wilpon.
Wilpon's comments worked, from a P.R. perspective.
Wilpon's claims went unchallenged at his press conference, and none of the subsequent stories, with the exception of Andrew Keh's piece in the Times (which cited my write-up on the debt question), examined them at all.
Keh wrote, "It was not a setting that allowed for much back and forth, although in more formal circumstances he might have found some of his statements more closely challenged."
So how about now?