Vikings owner Wilf charges 'anti-wealth bias' in New Jersey court case

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 30, 2013 - 11:16 PM

In papers filed in a New Jersey civil case, the Vikings owner explained why his family’s net worth should not be made public.

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Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf

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Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said there is an “anti-wealth bias” behind efforts to force him and his family to disclose their net worth, according to new documents released Wednesday in a civil case in New Jersey.

The family’s legal team, in a 21-page legal memorandum, presented its most detailed legal reasoning of why the Wilfs’ net worth should not be made public, saying that doing so was not supported by New Jersey law and that ­rulings by other courts across the country had routinely kept net worth private.

The legal arguments are part of the Wilfs’ appeal of a New Jersey civil case, in which a lower court judge last month ruled that the Wilfs have to pay $84.5 million in damages in a business dispute involving a New Jersey apartment complex. The judge also said the family should disclose its net worth, but said the family could first appeal her ruling.

The Wilfs, who have numerous real estate holdings, particularly on the East Coast, have long kept private their financial holdings even as the family is seeking large public subsidies to build a new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

For a brief time after the judge made her initial ruling in August, the New Jersey case threatened the Wilfs’ stadium plans when the public stadium authority in Minnesota hired a consultant to see whether the Vikings owners had enough money to fund their share of the $975 million tab. The consultant concluded the Wilfs, even with the court ruling, had enough money, and the team and the stadium authority reached an agreement to build the project earlier this month.

The Wilfs acknowledged in the newly released court documents that “being wealthy provides them with some business advantages,” but added that “none of the Wilfs is seeking special treatment. Just because the Wilfs are involved in businesses that attract attention, such as owning a National Football League team, and successful real estate developments, they should not be forced to reveal private financial information that others working in less public endeavors would not be required to reveal.”

The Wilfs also said that the “truly important information” was already public, including testimony transcripts and the judge’s legal conclusions, without having to also make public the family’s net worth.

Opposing attorneys in the New Jersey case, in arguing against the Wilfs, said that the Wilfs had “utterly failed” to provide any proof “other than mere conjecture” that releasing the family’s net worth would harm the Wilfs.

In an earlier court affidavit, Zygi Wilf had argued that making his net worth public “will pose a serious threat to me and my family” and that “malicious individuals” could target them for physical attack and extortion.

In expanding on that argument in the latest court filing, the Wilfs cited newspaper accounts of a man sentenced to prison for an extortion plot against film producer Harvey Weinstein. In another instance, the Wilfs cited the chief of AIG, the insurance giant, telling Congress he was reluctant to release the names of employees who had received bonuses because the company was ­getting death threats.

“A number of American families have been targeted and put in harm’s way — through home invasions, kidnappings and extortion attempts — due solely to public knowledge of their financial resources,” the latest court filings stated.

The new court documents from the Wilfs were filed in late September, but just released Wednesday by New Jersey court officials.

The documents took particular aim at Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson, the trial court judge in New Jersey whose stinging remarks against the Wilfs in the case made headlines in both New Jersey and Minnesota. In August, as the lengthy court case came to a close, Wilson said the Wilfs had shown “bad faith and evil motive” in defrauding their business partners and that the Wilfs had not met the “barest minimum” of their responsibilities as partners.

But the Wilfs, in the newest court documents, shot back at Wilson regarding the issue of net worth. The judge, according to the Wilfs, “embraced an anti-wealth bias that gave undue weight to public curiosity. [The] trial court repeatedly commented that wealthy individuals like the Wilfs who work in a business that has high visibility must accept unwarranted invasions of privacy.”

The family also argued in the court documents that revealing their net worth could put them at a competitive disadvantage.

“It is the uncertainty as to the Wilfs’ precise financial position that is key to an effective negotiation,” the family’s court filing added.

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