Tangled in a N.J. suit, the Wilfs haven't proved they can pay their share of the Vikings project, a lawyer involved in the “due diligence” says.
The Vikings stadium project encountered fresh problems on Friday when an attorney for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority revealed that team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have refused to prove they can pay their share.
The Wilfs have been embroiled in a New Jersey lawsuit where a judge found that they had systematically defrauded their partners on a real estate project there. The Minnesota sports authority has since called for an independent audit of the Wilfs.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, attorney Peter Carter, of Dorsey & Whitney, said that despite “multiple requests” for such information, the Wilfs had, to date, “refused to provide us with any personal financial information that our advisers need to obtain comfort that the New Jersey court case will not impact their ability to meet their financial obligations.”
Carter’s statement came in the wake of earlier remarks by Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley, who said the team was cooperating fully with the review and producing all requested documents.
That, Carter said in the statement, was “simply not true.” The people of Minnesota, he said, “deserve to know that the team can finance their part of the stadium construction budget — without delay.”
Bagley, contacted on Friday evening, said that “it’s not productive to engage in this kind of back and forth with the MSFA. The Vikings stand behind our comments from earlier today.”
Meanwhile, the New Jersey judge who had already ruled against the Wilfs on Friday again lashed out at Zygi Wilf for the way the books were kept on a New Jersey development.
After “almost 20 years as a litigator and almost 17 years as a judge, much of it doing business litigation, [I’ve] never seen an entity run like this,” New Jersey Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson said of the Wilfs’ business practices.
Construction could be delayed
Earlier in the day, Sports Facilities Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen had called on the team to return to negotiations over final stadium contract language or risk a construction delay that could push back the scheduled opening date of July 1, 2016, by at least a month.
Kelm-Helgen said that the talks, which broke down earlier this week, must resume while the authority’s lawyers conduct a review of the New Jersey litigation and perform extensive background checks on the Wilfs’ finances.
“If that work does not continue concurrently, our schedule could slip,” she told a meeting of the authority on Friday.
Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday evening said that he strongly supports the authority’s position. “The team’s owners need to understand that the Board’s additional due diligence is an absolutely necessary response to the severe criticisms made recently” by the New Jersey judge, he said in a statement. “The Authority did not ask for this difficult situation; it was foisted upon them. I thank the Board members for acting responsibly to safeguard our public investment.”
Scott Stenman, a consultant to the authority, said at Friday’s meeting that “We’re risking the beginning of the 2016 football season.” The Vikings are slated to play the 2014 and 2015 seasons at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota.
After the authority meeting, Bagley said the Vikings could not negotiate agreements until the authority completed its audit. “Until they complete this due-diligence inquiry and have the confidence that we are good partners, we can’t have partnership negotiations,” Bagley said.
That position has stalled negotiations on use and development agreements that officials say are needed to arrange financing and begin construction.
In response to the team’s position, authority members on Friday suggested that the public body stop negotiating and merely offer the state’s position to the team — take it or leave it.
“We ought to slide the documents across the table … the way we want them resolved, and say, ‘Sign them, that’s our deal,’ ” said authority member and Target Corp. executive John Griffith. A delay, he said, could result in additional costs that would be the responsibility of the public, even though it is the team’s outside business interests that triggered the new investigation.