Judge’s finding: Vikings owner’s wallet, integrity take a hit

A New Jersey judge’s findings following a two-decade court case involving Minnesota Vikings ownership shouldn’t affect progress on the team’s new multimillion-dollar stadium. They will, however, pound a dent into the pocketbooks of the team’s principal owner and his front-office family members.

And an even bigger one in their business integrity.

According to a New Jersey Star-Ledger report, Judge Deanne Wilson believes Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, his brother Mark Wilf and their cousin Leonard Wilf illegally withheld agreed-upon revenue from two partners in their lucrative real estate corporation. Wilson won’t rule officially until two weeks from now but was very condemning in her remarks Monday, 21 years after the dispute’s first civil lawsuit was filed.

“The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself,” Wilson said.

Wilf’s accusatory business partners, Ada Reichmann and Josef Halpern, seek $51 million in damages for not receiving their fair share of revenue from a New Jersey housing development. Wilson didn’t specify specific dollar amounts but did say Reichmann and Halpern are owed damages, compensation for wrongly allocated funds dating back to 1992 and reimbursement for attorney fees.

That’s a good chunk of change for a case that went to trial twice and was heard by four different judges.

Zygi Wilf and his partners purchased the Vikings for $600 million in 2005, and Mark and Leonard were put in place as co-owners. The team is on the hook for $477 million of its new $975 million stadium, which is scheduled to be ready in time for the 2016 football season. Celebritynetworth.com lists Zygi Wilf’s net worth alone at $1.3 billion, so the paying of damages and compensation isn’t expected to push back the stadium’s completion date.

But shady business practices are now officially associated with the man steering the Vikings ship.

Based on her comments Monday, Wilson is expected to rule the Wilfs guilty for fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. The trio also violated New Jersey’s civil racketeering statute.

The Wilfs own 50 percent of the community in question, Rachel Gardens, and Reichmann and Halpern were each entitled to 25 percent of the development’s revenues. Through a long-running system of bookkeeping the family’s business partners described as “organized-crime-type activities,” Reichmann never received her full share, and Halpern didn’t get his after 1990.

Zygi Wilf testified he thought Reichmann received “too good a deal” and didn’t agree to the same terms with her as his uncle, Harry Wilf, who oversaw the development’s construction in the 1980s.

Reichmann filed the initial suit in 1992, and Halpern joined in 2009. Wilson actually delayed her retirement to handle the dispute.

Her findings revealed that the Wilfs tweaked management fees, charged “unreasonable” interest, inflated their partners’ advertising budget and used Rachel Gardens revenues to pay employees at other sites.

“I do not believe I have seen one single financial statement that is true and accurate,” Wilson said. “There was a consistent, pervasive method of removing funds so they would not reach the partners.”

The Wilfs’ lead attorney, Shep Guryan, said his clients have “earned a well-deserved reputation for integrity and honest dealings.”

That perception took a big hit Monday.

Follow Phil Ervin on Twitter