Review clears Vikings owners’ finances

Published 1:28 pm Saturday, September 14, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS  — A financial review shows Minnesota Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf are able to pay their share of the $1 billion cost for the team’s new downtown Minneapolis stadium, officials with the public authority that’s managing the project said Friday.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority hired attorneys and forensic accountants to review the New Jersey-based businessmen’s finances after a judge there ruled last month they committed fraud in an unrelated real estate deal. That judge has not yet ruled on damages, but officials in Minnesota were concerned that heavy penalties could interfere with the Wilfs’ ability to produce their $477 million share for the new stadium.

Minneapolis attorney Peter Carter, who led the review, said that even if the judge levies the heaviest possible fines, the Wilfs should still be good for the stadium money.

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The authority wouldn’t reveal details about the Wilfs’ wealth. The team demanded confidentiality agreements before turning over financial documents.

“They have significant holdings, is the best way to describe it,” Carter said.

A statement from the Vikings noted the review confirmed what team officials previously said. “The Vikings and the Wilf family have the financial ability to meet the private commitments to the stadium project,” the statement said.

The Wilfs were sued 21 years ago by partners in an apartment complex who said they were cheated of their fair share of revenue from the project. The plaintiffs sought more than $50 million in damages. In early August, a judge ruled that the Wilfs and their cousin, Leonard, committed fraud, breach of contract and fiduciary duty, and had violated New Jersey’s civil racketeering law.

The financial review did include one hedge, noting New Jersey law requires civil defendants be referred to county and state prosecutors for criminal investigation if they are ordered to pay punitive damages. Carter, in his report, wrote there was no way to know how that might turn out.

The stadium authority also cited assurances by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that the league would compel any new owners to honor the team’s 30-year lease on the new stadium.

“League rules would not permit a team to relocate in violation of an existing lease,” Goodell wrote Friday in a letter to stadium authority chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen.

Background checks that were part of the review found no criminal history for Zygi or Mark Wilf, Carter said, and no other lawsuits of comparable size to the one in New Jersey. Investigators did find a number of other lawsuits against the Wilfs around the country, he said, but most related to disputes with tenants in apartment buildings they owned.

“That’s standard to their main line of business,” Carter said.

The financial review slowed progress on stadium use and development negotiations, which raised fears about delays in the stadium’s construction timeline and the potential to drive up costs. Officials want to break ground in November on a stadium they hope will be ready for the 2016 football season.

Kelm-Helgen said she’s “fairly confident” the original schedule can be maintained.