Vikings stadium moves forward after 'due diligence' probe

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September 13, 2013
By: Ben Johnson
Kelm-Helgen and Carter present their findings to the media
Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
Wilfs have enough money to pay for the stadium, but may face criminal charges after pending civil litigation wraps up

A financial and legal audit commissioned by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority found that the Wilf family will have enough money to pay for the new stadium, even if “the worst-case scenario” occurs in their pending civil lawsuit in New Jersey.

Part of that worst-case scenario is that Zygi Wilf and his brothers could face criminal charges in addition to civil penalties as a result of the ongoing litigation in New Jersey.

Judge Deanne Wilson on Aug. 5 ruled against the Wilf family in a 21-year-old legal dispute over ownership stake in a 764-unit apartment complex in Pine Brook, NJ.

Wilson found the Wilfs committed fraud and civil conspiracy, violated the New Jersey civil RICO statute and called their actions “evil.”

The Wilfs are expected to appeal much, if not all of her rulings, but if the rulings are upheld they could be liable for tens of millions of dollars in punitive damages. Under New Jersey law, when punitive damages are awarded, the county prosecutor and attorney general have the option to open an investigation to determine whether a criminal act has been committed.

Peter Carter, the lead attorney working on the due diligence probe triggered by the New Jersey ruling, sat next to MSFA Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen at a Sept. 13 press conference explaining the results of the audit.

Carter said “every background check was clean and established that the Wilfs had no criminal history.”

With the pending appeals still to be decided and uncertainty surrounding whether the attorney general or county attorney would even be interested in pursuing charges if the appeals fail, any potential indictments seem very far off.

However, following the worst-case scenario to its worst-case conclusion, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell submitted a letter to the MSFA stating that if the Wilfs were forced to sell the team, the new owner would be required to honor any previously made agreements regarding the stadium.

Tight Timeline

Kelm-Helgen said that she hopes to have all of the miscellaneous agreements needed between the Vikings and MSFA done in time to vote on the them at the Sept. 27 MSFA board meeting.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. … Next week is really the key week,” she said.

Negotiations between the Vikings and MSFA were put on hold while the due diligence probe was conducted, although they resumed this week, according to Kelm-Helgen.

The Vikings have said ground needs to be broken in November in order to keep the construction schedule on track.