WASHINGTON – A New Jersey state judge on Friday punished Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf and their cousin, Leonard Wilf, with $103 million in damages, fees, interest and expenses for defrauding and deceiving business partners in the operation of an apartment complex in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City.
Judge Deanne Wilson ordered the Wilfs to post a $110 million bond by Jan. 8 that will be held for three years or until they exhaust their appeals in the long-running case.
Wilson also allowed the Wilfs to file a second appeal of her order that their personal wealth be made public as part of the suit.
“If the appellate court denies that appeal, we’ll be able to disclose their wealth in mid-February,” said Alan Lebensfeld, the lawyer for Josef Halpern, who was awarded roughly $40 million in judgments. Halpern’s sister and co-plaintiff, Ada Reichmann, was awarded roughly $63 million.
“On the merits [the Wilfs’ personal wealth] should be disclosed, and we believe it will be,” Lebensfeld said.
The case still has “a long way to go” before any potential payout, he said, but he felt “a tremendous sense of relief” that Wilson had entered an order in a case that had its beginnings in 1992.
The Wilfs’ legal team leader, former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey, promised a comprehensive appeal of what he called “a number of serious errors” by the judge.
“Many of her rulings are without precedent,” said Harvey, who now works in private practice. “She has created her own rules.”
Harvey said the Wilfs will seek to block the release of their personal net worth and to delay sale of the Rachel Gardens apartment complex that is at the center of the lawsuit.
Harvey said that Wilson’s legal interpretations aside, the judge should not have heard the case because her husband, an attorney, has represented the law firm of one of the plaintiffs.
Wilson could not be reached Friday to comment.
No impact on stadium
State officials said that the ruling is unlikely to affect the Wilfs’ participation in a public-private partnership to build a billion-dollar Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis or their opinion of the Wilfs as business partners in light of the New Jersey ruling.
“I would encourage you to reach out to the [Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority] for additional comment,” said Matt Swenson, press secretary for Gov. Mark Dayton. “There is a signed agreement between the stadium authority and the team, and it is our expectation that the stadium authority has done its due diligence to ensure the sanctity of that agreement.”
Michele Kelm-Helgen, the authority’s chairwoman, said its review of the Wilf family finances accounted for potential penalties in the New Jersey fraud case.
“It won’t have any impact on the stadium financing,” she said. “They’re clearly able to continue with their investment.”
Harvey said posting a $110 million bond was not a problem for the Wilfs. According to Wilson, the Wilfs own 30,000 to 50,000 apartment units, more than 100 other properties, two hotels and a charter airline.
The bond includes the full amount of the final judgment plus three years interest and a cushion to cover extra legal fees that Reichmann and Halpern could incur during the appeal process.
“The Wilfs have ample assets to cover the costs,” Harvey said.
Minnesota opponents of the stadium deal from both major political parties said the issue is more about character than the Wilfs’ ability to pay damages and legal fees in addition to their share of the stadium costs.
“The stadium deal is done,” said state Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville. “I am more disappointed in the size of this judgment. These are not the kind of people we like to do business with.”
Republican state Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville, a candidate for governor, said he hoped that Wilson’s findings of guilt, combined with the size of the judgment, will provide the state with leverage “to get more of the Wilfs’ skin in the game” for the stadium’s construction.
“We need to lean on the Wilfs to make it a better deal,” he said.