Ahead of Major League Baseball owners’ vote Friday to approve the purchase of 95 percent of the New York Mets to hedge fund manager Steve Cohen, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters Thursday that the city’s legal department is legally obligated to review the sale since Citi Field in Flushing, Queens, is on city land, according to the Associated Press. The city owns the land Citi Field sits on and de Blasio must approve the lease transfer.
“It’s our land,” de Blasio said in a press conference on Thursday. “There is a legal requirement that if there’s an ownership change it has to be evaluated. Our law department is doing that evaluation based on the law.”
The lease states the mayor can block the sale of the team to “any person that has been convicted in a criminal proceeding for a felony or any crime involving moral turpitude.” When asked about blocking the sale to Cohen, de Blasio explained the provision in the city’s lease agreement that says any new owner of the team cannot be someone who has been convicted of a felony or is an organized crime figure.
Cohen has technically never been convicted of a crime. His former hedge fund, SAC Capital Partners, pled guilty to insider trading charges in 2014, however, and was fined nearly $2 billion. Cohen was never assigned blame but was banned from managing money from 2016-18 as a result of a civil suit with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
When asked whether he believed Cohen to be a fit owner, de Blasio declined to comment, according to the Associated Press. He did, however, confirm that he had spoken with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to discuss the potential sale.
“When we’re in the middle of a legal review, which again is our fiduciary responsibility as a city to do this, it’s not appropriate to be commenting on the people involved,” de Blasio said.
Major League Baseball owners are expected to vote on Friday to approve the purchase of 95 percent of the Mets by Cohen. Cohen needs 22 votes from the other 29 owners to be approved.
Cohen, 64, agreed to purchase the team for a reported $2.475 billion last month. Cohen will become the wealthiest MLB owner by a large margin once the sale is approved. MLB’s ownership committee approved the sale last week, which was step one in this official sale process.
The current Mets ownership group includes Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz. The Wilpon and Katz families would retain 5 percent of the team.