Gov. Mark Dayton, still concerned about the business practices of Vikings owners Zygi Wilf and his family, said he supports a decision by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to conduct an investigation of the Wilfs' background and finances before concluding a deal to build a new stadium.
"I give (authority board) chair Michele Kelm-Helgen great credit and other members of the board great credit, they're going to take this very, very seriously, and they should," Dayton said Wednesday. "They've assembled a top-notch investigative team to look the whole deal over,look at their financial representation ...
"They're the majority owners of the Vikings and the league has indicated that this does not jeopardize their ownership of the team, so they're the people we've got to deal with if we're going to make this project go."
In an interview on Minnesota Public Radio and in comments afterwards, Dayton said his faith in the Wilfs was shaken by a New Jersey judge's decision last week that they had committed fraud, breach of contract and violations of the state's civil racketeering statutes in connection with a real estate partnership.
The facilities authority, which is negotiating final contracts with the Vikings to build the stadium, has put together a legal and financial team to investigate the New Jersey lawsuit, perform extensive background checks and review other lawsuits involving the Wilf family.
Dayton said he did not know of the pending lawsuit until news reports of the judge's decision appeared last week.He said he has not spoken to the Wilfs since then.
"Civil racketeering, evil intent, dishonest financial reports, fraud -- she really threw the book at them," Dayton said of the judge's ruling. "This goes way behind what's acceptable business practice -- what's legal business practice..."
"Is this one exception to an otherwise impeccable record? That's what this investigative audit will determine," Dayton said."Is this part of a broader pattern, or is this an aberration?"
He added of the legal decision: "It certainly undermined my confidence in their veracity and what they've presented to us that provided the basis for working out the agreement we did."
The Vikings have said that the suit will not affect their deal with the state. The $975 million stadium, to be built in downtown Minneapolis and opened for the 2016 NFL season, includes a $477 million team contribution and $498 million from the state and the city of Minneapolis.
Dayton said if the authority's investigation "determines that this is typical of how they operate, then, you know, we've got a very, very serious problem." He said knowing of the suit's existence during debate over the Vikings' stadium bill would not have had the same effect as the judge's decision did. While the suit began more than two decades ago, Dayton said, the problems cited by the judge extend into the present.
"They say it's the distant past," Dayton said. "Well, it began in the distant past but it ended in current times. The same principals who are being criticized by the judge for their conduct in that case are the ones who are involved and own the Vikings. So it's very relevant in my mind. It's very current. It needs to be scrutinized every which-way."