Vikings owners look to keep their family finances from public

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 4, 2013 - 12:14 AM

Lawyers for the Vikings owners will ask a New Jersey court next week to seal documents with the family’s net worth.

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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,

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As the public board overseeing Vikings stadium construction digs deep into the Wilf family finances, attorneys for the team owners will be in a New Jersey courtroom next week lobbying to keep that information from the public.

A hearing on the issue of sealing the family’s net worth and other financial records is scheduled for Monday in Morristown, N.J., before Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson, who is expected to decide later this month how much the Wilfs must pay former business partners in that state.

Wilson, who ruled in August that Zygi and Mark Wilf had committed fraud, breach of contract and violations of the state’s civil racketeering statute in connection with the running of a large apartment complex in Montville, N.J., was highly critical of the family’s business dealings, saying at one point that “I do not believe I have seen one single financial statement that is true and accurate.”

She is expected to award damages in the case Sept. 23 after reviewing the Wilf family’s finances.

Those damages could be tens of millions of dollars or more, potentially affecting the Wilfs’ ability to pay for their share of the team’s new downtown Minneapolis stadium, which is expected to replace the Metrodome by the 2016 NFL season.

An attorney for the Wilfs said immediately after Wilson’s ruling that the family “has earned a well-deserved reputation for integrity and honest dealings.” The Wilfs, Vikings officials and NFL representatives have said repeatedly since then that the owners, team and league will honor their financial commitment to the $975 million project.

The Vikings, with help from a $200 million NFL loan, are responsible for $477 million of the stadium construction cost. The state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis will pick up the rest.

The Wilfs have large business holdings in the New Jersey area, but their dealings have long been kept private. A 2011 Sports Illustrated study listed Zygi Wilf’s net worth alone to be about $310 million.

Wilson’s decision on damages almost certainly will come after the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public body overseeing construction of the downtown stadium, completes its deep legal and financial background check of the Wilfs. The authority ordered the “due-diligence” probe at the urging of Gov. Mark Dayton in the days following Wilson’s ruling and sharp criticism of the team’s owners.

“We’re not going to wait for the judge to decide on damages,” Michele Kelm-Helgen, the authority chairwoman, said Tuesday.

She said the due-diligence team — made up of the Dorsey & Whitney law firm and FTI Consulting, an international forensic-accounting firm — will “analyze a worst-case risk of the lawsuit and then compare that against the financial information that we have received.”

Attorneys and advisers for the Wilfs and the Vikings last week turned over all legal and financial documentation requested by the authority’s team, speeding up the timeline for completing the work, Kelm-Helgen said.

The review could be finished by early next week — nearly a week ahead of the authority’s Sept. 15 deadline. A written report will be submitted to the authority board at that time, Kelm-Helgen said, and a summary of findings will be made public shortly thereafter.

Although the details of the Wilfs’ financial holdings won’t be made public, the due-diligence team will outline the process for arriving at its conclusions “so the public has a sense of what was done,” Kelm-Helgen said.

The stadium financing legislation approved in 2012 stipulates that the Wilf family finances and the Vikings finances will be kept confidential.

Groundbreaking on the stadium, originally set for October, is now tentatively scheduled for early November after the additional investigative work pushed back important decisions on lease and development agreements between the authority and the team.

The authority will hold a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday to talk about the due-diligence probe and the authority’s contracts with the team.

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