After a judge awards final damages in a decades-old legal battle, a costly appeal will likely prolong the case for years.
Morristown, N.J. – The judge presiding over a fraud and racketeering case involving Minnesota Vikings owners Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf will decide next week whether to postpone awarding nearly $100 million in damages and fees to their former business partners.
As early as Monday, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson also could rule on whether to disclose the Wilfs’ net worth, which the judge used to calculate damages in the fraud case.
After three days of debate, Wilson on Friday adjourned the final hearing in the long-fought legal battle for the weekend.
When court resumes on Monday, Wilson may announce the amount and type of bond the Wilfs must post if she delays awarding damages to plaintiffs Josef Halpern and Ada Reichmann.
The value of the bond could well exceed the Wilfs’ potential $100 million fine. Under New Jersey law, the bond usually includes the full amount of the judgment, an allotment to cover legal fees for the appeal, contingency funds in case an appeals court awards extra damages, and interest payments tacked on.
The attorneys for brothers Zygi and Mark Wilf and their cousin Leonard Wilf contend that Wilson should postpone the payout to Halpern and Reichmann, pending appeal.
That is “appropriate until the [appeals court] has determined all the issues in this matter, which we feel are significant,” said the Wilfs’ lead attorney, Sheppard Guryan.
The appeals process could take several years or more, Wilson told attorneys on Friday.
Halpern’s attorney, Alan Lebensfeld, plans to petition the New Jersey Court of Appeals to speed the process, because his client is terminally ill.
“It’s time to go on to the next stage,” Lebensfeld said. “It’s been an enormous strain on everybody.”
As the Wilfs embark on the construction of a new $1 billion Vikings stadium in time for the 2016 football season, the final stages of the 21-year-old legal battle have led to renewed scrutiny of the Wilfs’ wealth.
Wilson has already rendered an $84.5 million judgment against the Wilfs, whom she ruled committed fraud and violated the state’s civil racketeering laws in a 1980s real estate deal.
Wilson will also hand down her decision on a recommendation that the Wilfs pay $15 million in legal fees and court costs.
The Wilf case is the last for Wilson, 69, who delayed her retirement by two years to hear the case to its conclusion. Her last day on the job is Friday, Dec. 20.
Bitter battle continues
The Wilfs have long fought to keep their finances private, but after a state appeals court panel declined to hear their case this week, Wilson will have the final say. She could decide to keep their net worth under wraps until attorneys exhaust the appeal process.
In court filings, the family accused the judge of having an “anti-wealth bias” and argued that revealing their net worth could hinder their business dealings and place their families at risk of physical attacks and extortion plots.
This fall, Wilson found that the Wilfs shorted Halpern and Reichmann tens of millions of dollars in profits from Rachel Gardens, a 764-unit apartment complex in Montville, N.J., named for Halpern’s wife.
Halpern and Reichmann, who are siblings, placed the underpayments at $20 million and sought triple damages from the Wilfs under New Jersey’s racketeering laws, but Wilson’s judgment went beyond that. Wilson used the Wilfs’ net worth when awarding the damages.
The family has fought to keep their net worth private even as they secured public funding for the new stadium in Minneapolis.
An independent audit of their finances conducted this fall for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the panel charged operating the stadium, found that the Wilfs could cover their part of the financing, roughly $477 million.
With financing and preparation costs, the Wilfs actually will pay about $550 million, aided by revenue generated from naming rights, sponsorships, licensing fees and a $200 million loan from the National Football League.
The Wilfs did not appear in court this week, and have no plans to attend next week, Guryan said.
Corey Mitchell is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington bureau. Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell