N.J. lawsuit: Zygi and Mark Wilf await the price they must pay

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 23, 2013 - 9:49 AM

New Jersey judge Deanne Wilson found Vikings owners guilty in a long and bitter lawsuit. Now she must decide their penalty – and worth.


From left, Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf listened to a New Jersery judge’s decision Aug. 5 in a 21-year-old lawsuit.

Photo: ANDREW MILLER • For the (N.J.) Star-Ledger,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

– The latest drama over the Minnesota Vikings’ new $975 million football stadium can be found in an unlikely setting — a 186-year-old courthouse in New Jersey with creaky floors, a weathervane atop its roof and a small fifth-floor courtroom littered with documents and charts.

This is where Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have already been found guilty on civil charges of defrauding their partners over profits from a sprawling apartment complex that sits a short drive away. How much the Wilfs will have to pay in civil penalties, including punitive damages, is expected to be announced shortly, with a partial ruling possible as early as Friday.

For years, the case dragged on in relative anonymity until two weeks ago, when the judge decided that the Wilfs showed “bad faith and evil motive” in a case she said was unlike any she had ever seen in New Jersey. Her words quickly caught the attention of Gov. Mark Dayton, who said he worried whether the judge’s findings about the Wilfs’ business practices would have any bearing on their stadium dealings. With ground about to be broken on the project and hard questions being raised over the Wilfs’ credibility, officials in Minnesota ordered a review of the Vikings owners.

The still-unfolding New Jersey case could be pivotal to the Minnesota review. Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson is expected to rule soon on whether the Wilfs’ net worth — which she will consider in awarding monetary damages — should be made public. While Zygi Wilf’s net worth was at one point estimated at $310 million by Sports Illustrated, the court documents could provide a far more specific figure.

This week, during an otherwise tedious discussion of management fees, there was a new glimpse of how far the Wilfs’ real estate holdings stretch. Wilson said court documents showed the Wilfs had 30,000 to 50,000 apartment units, more than 100 other properties, two hotels — one of them in Israel — and a charter airline. And of course, she said, they own the Vikings.

The suit, filed in 1992, has resulted in an estimated 1,600 separate court exhibits; the trial lasted 209 days; lawyers took court depositions from 56 people, and Zygi Wilf himself was on the witness stand for 33 days. The high stakes are reinforced just by estimates of the attorney fees — a lead lawyer has asked for at least $5.2 million.

Most every day, Josef Halpern, who with co-plaintiff and sister Ada Reichmann want at least $50 million from the Wilfs, arrives in a motorized wheelchair accompanied by an attendant. Halpern sits to the side, wheezing and coughing as he struggles with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). His attorney, Alan Lebensfeld, said Halpern was ambulatory two years ago, but now is “getting worse by the day.”

Halpern smiles occasionally, but has difficulty speaking.

Rachel Gardens, the disputed apartment complex, was named after Halpern’s wife, Lebensfeld said. Halpern is “the one who found the property and brought it to” the Wilfs, the attorney added.

Many of the case documents speak to an early history in which the Wilfs and the plaintiffs — and their families — were friendly business partners.

Loaded language

The Wilfs have not been in attendance recently to hear the judge list the reasons she thinks the Vikings owners committed fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and also violated New Jersey’s civil racketeering laws. Zygi and Mark Wilf sat quietly in the courtroom in early August when Wilson, in comments that made headlines from New Jersey to Minnesota, said that Zygi Wilf’s own testimony showed that he had “reneged” on the agreement with Reichmann because she got “too good a deal.”

For the most part, the Wilfs’ courtroom lawyers have lately had little to say — including whether the Wilfs will appeal the judge’s ruling.

“I really can’t go beyond [our] statement,” said Wilf lawyer Shep Guryan. The Wilfs have been in business for 58 years, he said earlier, and “as with many businesses, disputes occasionally arise.”

Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ vice president of public affairs and stadium development, said that the case will have “zero impact” on the Wilfs’ ability to finance and operate the downtown Minneapolis stadium. Dayton said this week that he wants an “absolute, airtight guarantee’’ that the Wilfs can meet their financial obligations with the stadium; the Vikings are responsible for $477 million of the construction costs, which includes a $200 million loan from the NFL and revenue generated from stadium naming rights, sponsorships and licensing fees.

The setting hardly matches the high stakes. On most days, those gathered in Courtroom 16 are mostly lawyers. During a recess this week, one attorney jokingly asked Laurie Engemann, the court reporter who records every word spoken in the courtroom, if she was going to buy herself a diamond ring with earnings from the long-running case.

With accountants for both sides also in the courtroom, most of the hearings have delved into the minutiae of the real estate deal gone bad. “Do we have to call it a ‘scheme’?” Wilf lawyer Bruce Snyder interrupted, as a lawyer for Reichmann characterized the Wilfs’ actions. At other points this week, the lawyers also squabbled in front of the judge over using the words “concocted” and “stealing” in describing the Wilfs’ actions.

“I think ‘stealing’ is not a word that I have used,” the judge said.

But an attorney for Reichmann argued that the case did involve a theft. “To me, ‘stealing’ and ‘theft’ is the same thing,” he said.

  • related content

  • The Wilf business empire

    Thursday August 22, 2013

    A lawsuit in a New Jersey court could offer the clearest view of Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf’s holdings. Estimates...

  • Aug. 18: Wilf inquiry adds pressure to stadium timeline

    Sunday August 18, 2013

    Any delays caused by a review of his finances would ripple through the construction schedule.

  • Aug. 24: Vikings: 'No point' in negotiating stadium during Wilf probe

    Friday August 30, 2013

    Minnesota Vikings execs say the MSFA 'needs to be fully confident in our ability to deliver financially.'

  • A partial ruling in the case could come as early as this week from Judge Deanne Wilson.

  • Co-plaintiff Josef Halpern is seeking at least $50 million from the Wilfs in a 21-year-old lawsuit over a New Jersey apartment complex business partnership.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Tennessee 13 FINAL
Jacksonville 21
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
New York 97 FINAL
Chicago 103
New Orleans 99 FINAL
Houston 90
Milwaukee 108 FINAL
Sacramento 107
Oklahoma City 109 FINAL
Golden State 114
Florida 2 FINAL(SO)
Philadelphia 1
Colorado 0 FINAL(OT)
Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 1 FINAL
Carolina 4
Washington 5 FINAL(OT)
Columbus 4
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Montreal 1
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Los Angeles 6
Edmonton 3 FINAL
San Jose 4
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 59 FINAL
Canisius 60
Temple 82 FINAL
Delaware 62
Long Island 69
Lehigh 65 FINAL
Quinnipiac 80
South Alabama 54 FINAL
Richmond 65
Seton Hall 89 FINAL
South Florida 69
Ga Southern 76 FINAL
Stetson 67
Yale 57 FINAL
Vermont 56
Cleveland State 54 FINAL
Virginia 70
Wright State 69 FINAL
Western Carolina 56
Nicholls 54 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 79
Morgan State 48 FINAL
Rider 62
Idaho State 72 FINAL
South Dakota St 75
Oakland City 52 FINAL
Austin Peay 76
Eureka 38 FINAL
Bradley 80
Appalachian St 65 FINAL
Charlotte 75
Connecticut 56 FINAL
Duke 66
Southern Miss 46 FINAL
Jackson State 66
Coastal Carolina 68 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Montana State 53 FINAL
South Dakota 55
UAB 70
Ohio 69 FINAL
Evansville 81
CS-Dominguez 50 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 72
Walla Walla 39 FINAL
Idaho 86
DePaul 59 FINAL
Oregon State 90
Nevada 65 FINAL
Pacific 69
Portland State 40 FINAL
San Francisco 77
CS-Bakersfield 56 FINAL
Utah State 57
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Marquette 80
Temple 78 FINAL
Howard 48
Southern Miss 66 FINAL
Ole Miss 68
Rider 67
Miami-Florida 74 FINAL
St Mary-KS 51 FINAL
South Dakota 115
William & Mary 71 FINAL
Wofford 51
Troy 82 FINAL
Evansville 94
Loyola Marymount 54 FINAL
USC 96
St Francis-PA 52 FINAL
Duquesne 92
Indiana-Southeast 45 FINAL
Delaware State 52 FINAL
Detroit 74
Tenn Temple 48 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 68
West Virginia St 58 FINAL
Radford 52
Fairfield 47 FINAL
Seton Hall 79
Dartmouth 44 FINAL
New Hampshire 60
Ball State 47 FINAL
Pittsburgh 59
Jacksonville 61 FINAL
Tennessee St 64
Trine 45 FINAL
Western Mich 81
Tenn Tech 53 FINAL
Lipscomb 72
Samford 56 FINAL
Tulane 57
New Orleans 55 FINAL
Tulsa 78
Incarnate Word 61 FINAL
TX-Pan American 65
Ark-Little Rock 42 FINAL
South Dakota St 67
CS-Northridge 77 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Santa Clara 88 FINAL
Oregon 92
(19) Oklahoma St 55 FINAL
Weber State 49
Washington 69 FINAL
San Diego State 48
Cal Poly 68 FINAL
New Mexico 84
(10) Louisville 65 FINAL
Grand Canyon 51
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters



Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon




question of the day

Poll: Will Christian Ponder ever be a full-time starter in the NFL?

Weekly Question