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Cohen receives initial permission to buy Mets, but hurdles remain

New York MetsSteve Cohen received initial approval from MLB’s ownership committee to purchase the New York Mets, but a clause in the Citi Field lease could end up complicating the deal.

The approval from MLB’s ownership committee was not unanimous: according to the New York Daily News, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf voted against the $2.42 billion purchase. (His preference was to sell the Mets to the Alex Rodriguez/Jennifer Lopez group.) Still, the overall 7-1 vote moves the issue to MLB’s executive council, which is expected to approve the purchase. After that, 23 of the 29 MLB teams must vote to approve the purchase. All of these approvals are expected. Cohen will control the Mets, with the Wilpons retaining 5 percent.

These approvals assume there are no other issues surrounding the purchase. But there could be one: the City of New York announced it will be looking into a clause in the Citi Field lease that prohibits felons or those controlling felons from leasing the ballpark. Technically, Cohen is not a felon, but his former trading firm, SAC Capital Partners, was accused of insider trading in 2014 and paid $1.8 billion in fines. This history is not exactly a secret and was raised early on when the Mets were put on the market, but MLB leaders quickly dismissed it as being a factor. From The New York Times:

The Citi Field lease states that a transfer of ownership is a “permitted transaction” only if the buyer is not a “prohibited person.” The lease agreement defines a “prohibited person” as anyone who “directly or indirectly controls, is controlled by, or is under common control with a person that has been convicted in a criminal proceeding for a felony or any crime involving moral turpitude.”

The Mets declined to comment, as did a representative for Cohen.

Whether the mayor can — or wants to — hold up the sale to Cohen remains to be seen, and any attempt to block the transaction would surely be met with legal challenges. But the process could put on hold some of the hopes of Cohen and legions of Mets fans, many of whom are eager for Cohen to take over the club before the start of the new year and begin pumping some of his billions into the club’s operations and roster.

Cohen has already announced he’d hire Sandy Alderson as Mets president, a move designed to impose stability to a front office that has seen its share of dramatics in recent years.

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