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Garden Homes Management Corp. also was accused by the federal government in 1999 of not renting to African Americans and, after agreeing to a consent order in September 2001, was found in contempt for not pursuing remedies. At one point, a federal judge pushed for a $1,000-a-day fine against the Wilfs.
As part of the investigation, federal officials said, a white renter was told there were vacancies at Lakeview Garden Apartments in New Jersey one day after a black applicant at the same complex was told there were no vacancies and that there already was a waiting list of 18 to 20 people. The complex, federal officials added, also discouraged families with children from renting or limited them to first-floor apartments.
The case was later settled, but not before the Wilfs and federal officials squabbled over when the company should have begun pursuing remedies.
The Wilfs also have faced state penalties and tax liens. In 2003, according to State of New Jersey documents, the family was penalized $680,216 by the state’s bureau of housing inspection. The money was repaid five years later.
In the early 1990s, records also showed that Zygi and Leonard Wilf and a third person owed the state $47,174 in wage report penalties under the state’s unemployment compensation law. The money, according to state documents, was likewise later repaid.
There also have been more minor cases. Zygi Wilf filed a lawsuit in New Jersey earlier this year when he rented four personal exercise machines, claimed an elliptical machine did not fit in the room he wanted to put it in and wanted his rental fee and security deposit back.
James Alexis said the Wilfs can be persistent courtroom adversaries — no matter how little money is involved. Alexis owns Professional Edge Landscaping and in 2010 sued the Wilfs in New Jersey for failing to pay just under $7,000 in past due bills.
“They wanted stuff for free,” he said. Then “I come [to] find out [they own the] Minnesota Vikings.” Alexis said he eventually settled the lawsuit for less money.
Questions about bookkeeping
In the Morristown, N.J., case, the judge said she was continually confused by Zygi Wilf’s finances. Wilson said, for example, she was frustrated with Zygi Wilf’s explanation regarding the profits of Garden Homes Agency, a company that provided bulk insurance coverage for the Wilfs’ properties.
The judge said that Zygi Wilf testified that Garden Homes Agency “pretty much, generally” does not make a profit, and that any financial distributions from the company to him were “many years ago.” But she said the evidence showed otherwise. The judge said records from the trial showed that from 1991 to 2009 the company “made a substantial profit,” and said the total was $18.4 million.
Wilf, the judge said, later added that there might have been some years when the company made a profit, and added that “there’s nothing against the law that says I shouldn’t be able to operate at a profitable situation.”
She also chastised Zygi Wilf in court last month for having selective memory in not being able to explain why Rachel Gardens was being charged substantially more for insurance than other Wilf projects.
Wilf, according to the judge, seemed to have little criteria for choosing which projects were charged more. “Once again, I have no idea what the witness’ answer actually was, or what he was doing, or why he did what he did,” said the judge.