Wilf family ordered to pay $84.5M in N.J. fraud case

10:26 AM, Sep 24, 2013   |    comments
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Zygi Wilf

MORRISTOWN, N.J. - Minnesota Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf and their cousin have been ordered to pay $84.5 million to two former business partners they defrauded in a 1980s real estate deal.

A New Jersey judge ruled last month that the Wilfs and their cousin, Leonard Wilf, committed fraud and breach of contract and violated the state's civil racketeering laws in their dealings with Ada Reichmann and her brother Josef Halpern.

The Wilf family was sued by Halpern and Reichmann, who they worked with to construct a 764-unit apartment complex in Montville, N.J.

"The (Wilfs) just took whatever they wanted and they did whatever they wanted" to the partners, the judge said.

Halpern, who is ill with multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair for mobility, found the property for the complex, Rachel Gardens. He was paid a salary as on-site manager, but he and Reichmann, who also were business partners with the Wilfs, were cut out of revenues.

"The decision (Monday) has unfairly deprived the Wilfs not only of their investment, but the entire value of their interest in the project which but for the Wilf's would never have been built," Wilf family attorney Shep Guryan said.

Under the ruling, Zygi Wilf would have to pay 60 percent of the total award. Mark and Leonard Wilf would be responsible for 20 percent each. In the end, the judge awarded a total of $33 million in compensatory and punitive damages, plus another $18.8 million in interest to Reichmann. She awarded $22.9 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Halpern, plus $9.7 million in interest.

Attorney Alan M. Lebensfeld, who represents the two partners, had wanted the judge to award $100 million in punitive damages. He argued that "the level of egregiousness" by the Wilfs warranted a hefty punitive award.

"This case is extraordinary," he said, "both by its depth and breadth of wrongdoing."

The Wilfs' attorneys said they plan to appeal. The family won't be required to pay any of the award until the appeals process is over.

"We are confident that an appellate court after a full thoughtful and diligent review of the record of this 207-day trial and the oral opinion of this court delivered over a period of weeks will conclude that the Wilfs are not liable for any wrongdoing," Guryan said.

That time frame for completion could be 2 to 3 years, attorneys said.

"The stadium will be built and they'll be an opening kickoff long before this case is ultimately decided by the appellate decision and ultimately, if necessary, the New Jersey Supreme Court," said Wilf family attorney Peter Harvey.

Minneapolis Stadium Facilities Authority chair Michele Kelm Helgen and Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley say that the ruling will have no bearing on the construction of the new Vikings stadium.

"The Vikings and the Wilf family have the financial ability to meet the private commitments of the stadium project regardless of the outcome of this legal matter," Bagley reiterated.

The MSFA recently wrapped up a due diligence inquiry to verify that the Wilfs could cover their share of the Vikings stadium costs.

Peggy Wright, of The Daily Record contributed to this report.

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