Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi and Mark Wilf stood on the field before Sunday's game between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Tevlin: The billionaire's burden – crying Wilf

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN
  • Star Tribune
  • November 2, 2013 - 6:44 PM

Not long ago my wife and I re­financed our condo down at the credit union.

The loan officer pushed some papers across the desk and asked that we fill them out. The forms asked some basic questions about our fiscal situation, such as how much money we made, how much we had saved and how much we owed.

“Don’t worry,” I said, pushing the blank papers back. “We’re good for it.”

“OK then,” said the banker. “Nice doing business with you.”

Thank goodness I wasn’t a billionaire who had just gotten a large handout from the taxpayers.

Unlike Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, the rest of us realize that certain people get to paw through our finances. Last week he claimed in a New Jersey court that an “anti-wealth bias” was behind efforts to get him to disclose his net worth in a lawsuit.

Wilf continues to argue that making his worth public would “pose a serious threat to me and my family” and that “malicious individuals” could target them for “home invasions, ­kidnappings and extortion attempts — due solely to public knowledge of their financial resources.”

Meanwhile, here in flyover land, the Wilfs were telling the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority that everyone knows they are filthy rich, so they shouldn’t have to prove they can cover their share of the new Vikings stadium.

I hope no malicious individuals were listening.

The commission hired a law firm to do a quick check of the Wilf’s finances. The firm agreed, without making their findings public: Trust us, said the law firm: They’re loaded.

I don’t disagree, and I don’t doubt the Wilfs can pay their share of the new stadium. In fact, they got such a sweet deal that I could probably cover it.

“My sense is that anybody asking for support from the state should supply financial information,” said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville. “It’s kind of irrelevant since they are not putting much of their own money in it anyway.”

But we are being asked to trust the Sports Facilities Authority (which bought the idea that electronic pull­tabs would work just swell) and some East Coast guys the court recently said showed “bad faith and evil motive” in their business dealings.

Show me the money.

Wilf’s argument that disclosure could harm his family is ridiculous. Malicious individuals don’t sit around and say, “Well, he’s only worth 700 million, not a billion, so let him be.”

An interesting profile of the Wilfs’ history in New Jersey ran recently in the New York Observer. They worked hard and amassed great wealth while remaining largely private.

The Observer reporter, Michael Craig, spent months trying to unearth the Wilf back-story. “I don’t think Judge Wilson treated the Wilfs any different because they are rich,” Craig said in an e-mail. “If the Wilfs are potentially the targets of stalkers or extortionists or thieves, they are already targets.”


“When the court decided to not keep the Wilfs’ net worth under seal, that was a few days before the [Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority] report on the Wilfs’ finances,” Craig said. “I assumed the court’s decision would be mooted by the MSFA report. But despite being a public body and the professed interest in ‘transparency’, it merely concluded the owners could meet their obligations.”

Seriously, trust us.

What perhaps surprises me the most is the Wilfs’ tin ear for public relations. They either don’t understand that good Minnesotans don’t think too much of billionaires complaining of their lot in life, or they don’t care.

The Wilfs showed that back in 2011 when they bought a $19 million townhouse on Park Avenue at the same time they were asking for public money. That purchase nearly equaled the most money ever sought for a house in Minnesota, a mansion owned by the Pillsbury family.

And the Wilfs showed the same tin ear when they whined about how unfair the world is for the folks with the dough.

For decades, they sought privacy. Fair enough. Privacy granted, in my book.

Then they bought an NFL team. And then they asked the taxpayers for a half-billion dollars.

I think they call that a game-changer. • 612-673-1702

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