Tevlin: Ted Mondale took a ‘long and tortured’ path to right decision

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 29, 2013 - 9:17 PM
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Ted Mondale

Photo: Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

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Last week Ted Mondale struck a deal with the receiver in the Tom Petters Ponzi scheme to pay back $50,000 of a $150,000 personal loan Petters gave him in 2005. The “clawback” was based on the notion that people shouldn’t profit from a crime, whether they knew about it at the time or not.

Mondale, as executive director of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, was also one of the people who thought, or at least promoted, the faulty idea that electronic pulltabs would generate more than $30 million toward the state’s share of Vikings stadium costs.

So, let me see if I have this right: The guy who can’t repay a loan that turned out to be funny money is now running an agency that can’t pay for a new stadium because it relied on funny e-tab estimates?

This should turn out well.

The receiver, Doug Kelley, used an FBI agent, a “heat-seeking missile,” to assess Mondale’s ability to pay. Even though Mondale is paid $160,000 to oversee the building of the new stadium, he doesn’t have enough assets or access to them to pay more than 50 grand. Kelley said trying to get any more would be like “getting blood from a turnip.”

You would think someone in Mondale’s role, the guy overseeing the largest public subsidy in the state, would hustle to settle this debt quickly and quietly. You would be wrong.

I asked Kelley if Mondale was cooperative. He paused.

“It was a long and tortured path for us to come to an agreement with Mr. Mondale,” Kelley said.

Mondale has not responded to reporters’ questions on the loan.

Mondale, sadly, is one of many former Petters employees who only paid a fraction of “loans” and “bonuses” back. The fact is, almost no one pays back all the money in a clawback. In the Petters case, some charities couldn’t pay back a dime. Others forked over millions that Petters had given them because they thought it was the right thing to do.

It is the right thing to do. Mondale didn’t do it until forced to. So, just as electronic bingo is being touted as a new solution to the shortfall, and just before stadium plans are unveiled, we are reminded of the fuzzy math of the stadium deal by Mondale’s personal financial situation.

I asked Sen. John Marty, a fellow DFLer who disagrees with how the stadium is funded, if Mondale’s unpaid loan bothered him.

Given his high profile, “you’d think it’s something you’d get settled pretty quickly,” Marty said. “He makes a lot of money and he made a lot of money before. But I don’t know anything about his finances.”

A tax accountant I talked to said Mondale is likely on the hook for taxes on the $100,000 of forgiven debt, now that the deal is settled.

During the negotiations last year between the state and the Vikings, Mondale was frequently dubbed “the point man.” He, like the governor and enough legislators on both sides, pushed e-tabs as a financial solution. Either they were gullible beyond belief or they trusted in the maxim that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. They went with the numbers that made the stadium work for them, and now find themselves rummaging through the cushions to scrape up enough money to build it.

The business Petters helped fund and Mondale ran, Nazca, promoted itself as a software company that could track real estate transactions for clients. Mondale promised it would be working in six months, but three years later he hadn’t delivered. By 2008, the company has losses of $5.7 million.

Mondale surely has skills that have gotten him many prominent jobs. He also has one undeniable currency to trade on: his name.

Petters acknowledged as much. During testimony in his trial, Petters said that he used the Mondale name to solidify his company’s reputation. Mondale held several positions at Redtag, which did business in Asia. His father, former Vice President Walter Mondale, had served as ambassador to Japan, and Petters said in court that the affiliation “opened up incredible doors.”

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