Wilfs argue against release of financial data

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 10, 2013 - 11:48 PM

Vikings owner argues against judge’s order to release net worth.

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Zygi Wilf, left, and Mark Wilf

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, in a signed court document released Tuesday, said 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.

Wilf’s most pointed comments over his net worth were released in New Jersey one day after a state Superior Court judge there said it should be made public as part of a long-running civil case. The judge on Monday gave the family 20 days to appeal her decision. The Wilfs, who are finalizing negotiations for a new football stadium in Minneapolis that would be partly subsidized by the public, are fighting the ruling.

Wilf also indicated that making public his net worth might affect his business dealings as the owner of the Vikings and could “damage” the family’s overall business efforts. Disclosing the net worth for the family’s real estate and professional sports holdings, he added, would “without doubt” give the Wilfs’ business partners and competitors “information that could be used against us in future dealings, including, but not limited to, the ability to tailor negotiations with respect to proposed transactions.”

The Wilfs have long kept their business dealings private, and Wilf himself has only occasionally spoken of the family’s significant real estate and business holdings. But the New Jersey case has shed a rare spotlight on the family’s financial affairs and over the past month has given Minnesota officials pause as they complete negotiations for a new $975 million Vikings stadium.

State officials in Minnesota last week said a review of the Wilfs’ finances has shown that they have the money for their $477 million share of the project, tentatively clearing the way for work to proceed. But because of the New Jersey court case, the debate over the Wilfs’ net worth and whether it should be released has escalated.

Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson last month found that the Wilfs, as part of partnership agreement related to a sprawling apartment complex in New Jersey, committed fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and a violation of the state’s civil racketeering laws. She is expected to announce damage amounts later this month that the Wilfs will have to pay.

Zygi Wilf’s three-page court statement released Tuesday said that estimates of his net worth in the media were, at this point, “simply speculative conjecture,” but said he opposed the release of a court document “in which I stipulate to a particular net worth” that would establish “a concrete figure associated with my wealth.”

In court papers released Tuesday, lawyers in New Jersey opposing the Wilfs and arguing that the family’s net worth should be made public said that Zygi Wilf’s net worth was estimated between $310 million and $1.3 billion. Alan Lebensfeld, one lawyer in the case arguing for disclosure, said the Wilfs’ attorney had used a strategy in which he “rattles off a ‘parade of horribles’ that is long on innuendo but short on any detail” that shows how the family would be harmed.

“The Wilfs,” Lebensfeld said in court documents, “have a reputation as billionaires with multiple, multistate real estate and sports holdings. They are quasi-public figures, both in Minnesota and New Jersey.”

Lebensfeld said that releasing a minimum stipulated net worth number would be “just that — a number,” and would not disclose confidential details of the Wilfs’ business operations. “[It] could not possibly lead to any competitive harm,” he added.

Zygi Wilf’s brother, Mark, and cousin Leonard Wilf, co-owners of the Vikings, also submitted similar signed court statements in the case opposing the release of the family’s net worth. Mark Wilf said the disclosure could harm his family “including my minor children,” and Leonard Wilf said there could be harm to “my minor children and grandchildren.”

Zygi Wilf agreed. “[It] will pose a serious threat to me and my family, including my 18-year-old daughter who recently began college, from individuals who will target us based upon our net worth,” he added. “Unfortunately, in the world in which we all live, it is not uncommon to read articles in the press describing plots by malicious individuals targeting well known high net worth individual[s] and their families for physical attack and extortion.”

In making her ruling Monday, the New Jersey judge noted that estimates of Wilf’s net worth were already posted on the Internet and added that Wilf had chosen to maintain a high public profile.

“If one is reclusive about one’s net worth,” she noted, “I think you probably don’t become the owner of an [National Football League] franchise.”

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