Vikings say NJ lawsuit won't harm stadium prospects

11:36 AM, Aug 9, 2013   |    comments
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Zygi Wilf

MINNEAPOLIS -- Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf Thursday moved to reassure fans and taxpayers that an adverse ruling in a long running lawsuit in New Jersey won't affect the team from moving ahead with the new stadium.

"The Vikings have spoken with Governor Dayton's representatives and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and have assured all parties that this civil lawsuit will have absolutely no impact on the stadium project," the Wilfs said in a statement issued by the team's media relations office.

The team has agreed to pay $477 million toward the cost of the $980 million project, which is slated to be built at the site of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the team's home since 1982.

The Wilf's stand to lose as much as $50 million in a legal dispute with their financial partners in a New Jersey apartment complex, but they said the stadium deal remains on solid ground.

Later this month the team is expected to ink Use Agreement with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which will own and operate the stadium and is coordinating design and construction with team.

"We have engaged several leading financial institutions to finance this project, and the funding is secure," the Wilf brothers' statement read.

"We look forward to our continued work with the MSFA to build this statewide asset on time and on budget."

Morris County Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson appears ready to rule against the Wilf brothers and their cousin, Leonard Wilf, in a civil lawsuit that began in 1992.

The plaintiffs assert that the Wilfs deliberately hid part of the profits from the Rachel Gardens apartment complex in Montville, NJ, in order to deprive their Canadian partners from a fair share of the earnings.

Judge Wilson Monday found that the Wilf brothers and their cousin had violated that state's civil racketeering statute, and had committed civil fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty to their business partners.

Wilson, who delayed her retirement to wrap up work on the case, has yet to rule on financial damages and awards to the plaintiffs.

Gov. Mark Dayton, in a statement issued to the media Thursday, appeared to be unnerved the news, and the words Judge Wilson used in the courtroom.

"I am deeply concerned by the Judge's findings that the Wilf family committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty; violated New Jersey's civil racketeering statute; and presented untruthful and inaccurate financial statements," Gov. Dayton said.

"Those practices are far from the legal standards for doing business in Minnesota."

Dayton said he urged legal counsel for the stadium authority board to, in his words, "Assure them and the people of Minnesota that all of the representations made by the team and its owners are truthful and accurate."

Rep. Bob Barrett, a Lindstrom Republican, told KARE that the Wilf's legal woes in New Jersey is just a latest in a series of developments that point to the need to put the stadium project on pause.

"Governor Dayton said he wanted to go out and look at the facts. I agree with him," Rep. Barrett remarked.

"I don't think the facts should stop at the Vikings story. I think they should proceed into a lot of other things; why are we 95 percent short with the e-pull tabs? How did that happen?"

The fact that some new General Fund money will be needed to fill the shortfall in electronic gaming revenues, Barrett contends, raise serious questions about the viability of the project and promises made to taxpayers.

"The only push back for not doing a deal is Zygi saying a deal's a deal," Rep. Barrett told KARE.

"And from him we found out, at least in New Jersey anyway, a deal really isn't a deal."

Michele Kelm-Helgen, the chair of the MN Sports Facilities Authority, said the agency's law firm and financial consultant will do a detailed audit of the stadium financing plan.

Kelm-Helgen said she's been assured the lawsuit in New Jersey won't derail the stadium, and that the NFL plans to stand by its decision to lend $200 million to the Vikings for the project.

"Yesterday I spoke with three NFL executives and they assured me the League continues to support this Stadium project and definitely plans to proceed with their financial commitments."

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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