MORRISTOWN, N.J. – A New Jersey judge on Monday said Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf must disclose their personal wealth as part of a lawsuit in which they were found to have defrauded their partners in a real estate deal unrelated to the team.
Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson, who has yet to award damages in the case, said she will not unseal specific numbers until the Wilfs have a chance to appeal her decision. She gave them 20 days to do so.
The Wilfs’ net worth also has been under scrutiny in Minnesota, where an independent audit by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority recently found that the Wilfs have the means to pay their share of a nearly $1 billion stadium being financed jointly by the state, the Vikings and the city of Minneapolis. That audit was conducted despite initial resistance by the Wilfs to providing information on their personal finances.
Shep Guryan, an attorney for the Wilfs, sparred with Wilson in court on Monday, challenging the public’s right to know the Wilfs’ finances. He called the public’s interest in the Wilfs’ wealth “prurient,” because the Wilfs already have demonstrated that they can pay whatever damages Wilson assesses. Additionally, the Wilfs wrote to the judge that disclosure would “inspire malicious individuals to lodge threats,” and that they feared damage to their business dealings by the release of “information that can be used against us.”
Wilson contended that disclosure is important to offset a perception “that people who are wealthy fare better in the judicial system than people who are not so well off.”
She said the Wilfs have not proved that they would suffer damage from revealing their minimal net worth.
“The Wilfs have already indicated their extreme wealth in self-professed statements,” Wilson said.
Gov. Mark Dayton, who sought the audit over concerns about civil penalties so large that it would hamper the Wilfs’ ability to cover stadium costs, sided with the judge.
“I understand why the Wilfs aren’t in favor of [disclosure],” Dayton said during a public appearance Monday. “But I also believe that transparency is generally in the public interest. In this case, I’m glad the judge has made the determination that she has.”
The audit was ordered after Wilson, in finding that the Wilfs had defrauded their partners, said in court that the two had shown “bad faith and evil motive” in a case unlike any she had seen in that state.
Asked whether Minnesota officials should have looked more closely at the 21-year-old lawsuit before agreeing to the stadium deal with the Wilfs, Dayton said “there wasn’t any indicator that I’m aware of that this was going to come to the conclusion with not only a decision, but with a strong denunciation of the defendants.”
Lester Bagley, spokesman for the Vikings, said he would defer any comment to Wilf’s New Jersey attorneys.
Zygi Wilf’s net worth was, at one point, estimated at more than $300 million by Sports Illustrated. Wilson has said court records show the Wilfs had 30,000 to 50,000 apartment units and more than 100 other properties, including a charter airline.
Public knowledge of those assets, she said, minimizes the threat that disclosure of minimum net worth could pose to the Wilfs’ safety or to their businesses.