Gov. Mark Dayton said he is "deeply concerned" by a New Jersey judge's statements in a case involving Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and his family, and urged the stadium authority to use caution in negotiating a final contract with the Wilfs to build the team a new $1 billion stadium.
"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," the governor said in a statement. "Those practices are far from the legal standards for doing business in Minnesota."
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson made those findings in a long-running civil case involving an apartment complex in Montville, N.J., in which the Wilfs were partners. She said Zygi Wilf exhibited "bad faith and evil motive" in the deal.
"The Court's findings pertain to a case that is unrelated to the agreement negotiated last year with the Wilfs and the Vikings," Dayton's statement continued. "However, since the Stadium Authority has not yet signed the final agreement, I would urge the Board to have its legal counsel assure them and the people of Minnesota that all of the representations made by the team and its owners are truthful and accurate."
Zygi Wilf and his brother, Mark, issued a response saying the team have spoken with the governor's office and the stadium authority "and assured all parties that this civil lawsuit will have absolutely no impact on the stadium project."
The Wilfs' statement said the team "has kept representatives from the NFL informed and has confirmed that league financing remains on track and unaffected by the ongoing legal proceedings.
"The Vikings guarantee of $477 million in private financing has gone through two years of review and due diligence by our public partners," the statement said, adding that "leading financial institutions" are involved in the project "and the funding is secure."
In additional comments Thursday at the Farmfest trade show near Redwood Falls, Dayton said he wanted his former top aide who now runs the Stadium Authority, Michele Kelm-Helgen, to review the agreement with the Vikings to check for any inaccuracies.
"The authority has not yet signed the final agreement so there is the opportunity to do that now," Dayton said. Referring to the New Jersey judge's comments, he added, "It's just far away from the kind of standard we have for business here in Minnesota. It's very distressing."
"I hope things square up so we can keep the team and build the stadium."
Kelm-Helgen, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the appointed body that is building the new stadium, issued a statement saying the authority "takes the allegations raised in the New Jersey lawsuit and the comments from Judge Wilson very seriously."
She said she spoke with three NFL executives Wednesday "and they assured me the League continues to support the Stadium project," including the league's financial commitment to the project.
Kelm-Helgen said the board plans to vote on the agreement for the stadium at its Aug. 23 meeting. The agreement "will define the lease with the team in the new stadium along with the agreements and details of the team's financing plan," she said.
She said the agreement will include "a detailed audit and oversight of the Vikings financing plan for the stadium, along with a review of their assets and financial position that will back their stadium financial plan."
The Vikings' stadium bill passed in May 2012, when the GOP controlled both houses of the Minnesota Legislature, and was supported and signed by Dayton, a DFLer. The two chief Legislative sponsors, Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont and former Rep. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead, were Republicans.
The current House Speaker, Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, issued a statement supporting the stadium authority's plan.
"It is important we ensure the commitments that the Wilfs have made to the people of Minnesota are honored," he said. "I support the efforts of the Stadium Authority to ensure this is the case...."
Dayton said if problems are found by the Authority, the body can change the agreement, but it would take legislative action to do anything major. He would not rule out making such changes at an expected special session for storm relief in early September, but said it was unlikely.
"It's very troubling what's come out but from what I understand ... it's not a basis for the state to revise or try to change part of the agreement," he said. He added that if it turns out the Wilfs misrepresented their end of the deal, that could change.