Lawsuit has governor concerned with Wilfs, stadium

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Vikings ownership issued a statement Thursday in hopes of reassuring their political business partners and Twin Cities citizens that a judge’s decision against them won’t have any adverse effects on the construction of the team’s near-billion-dollar stadium.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton doesn’t appear convinced.

“I am deeply concerned by the judge’s findings that the Wilf family committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty; violated New Jersey’s civil racketeering statute; and presented untruthful and inaccurate financial statements,” Dayton said in a release of his own. “Those practices are far from the legal standards for doing business in Minnesota.”

The governor referred to a 21-year-old New Jersey case in which judge Deanne Wilson found that brothers Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf and their cousin Leonard Wilf illegally withheld agreed-upon revenue from a pair of real estate partners. The Vikings owners stand to lose at least $50 million when Wilson officially rules later this month.

According to them, that won’t slow down progress on the team’s $975 million football cathedral, ground for which is scheduled to be broken in October.

“The Vikings have spoken with Governor Dayton’s representatives and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and have assured all parties that this civil lawsuit will have absolutely no impact on the stadium project,” Zygi and Mark Wilf’s statement read. “The team also has kept representatives from the NFL informed and has confirmed that league financing remains on track and unaffected by the ongoing legal proceedings.”

According to team-provided data, the Vikings are on the hook for $477 million of the stadium’s construction and another $13 million per year for operating expenses. The state has pledged $348 million toward construction, and the city plans to foot $150 million of the bill.

While legislation to finance the project was passed in May 2012, neither side has officially signed off on the agreement. That procedure is set to take place Aug. 23, when the MSFA next meets.

Between now and then, the MSFA will be taking a close look, once again, at the Vikings’ plan for financing their portion.

“The court’s findings pertain to a case that is unrelated to the agreement negotiated last year with the Wilfs and the Vikings,” Dayton said. “However, since the Stadium Authority has not yet signed the final agreement, I would urge the board to have its legal counsel assure them and the people of Minnesota that all of the representations made by the team and its owners are truthful and accurate.” 

They are, the Wilfs insist.

“The Vikings’ guarantee of $477 million in private financing has gone through two years of review and due diligence by our public partners,” they said their statement. “We have engaged several leading financial institutions to finance this project, and the funding is secure. We look forward to our continued work with the MSFA to build this statewide asset on time and on budget.”

MSFA chair Michele Kelm-Helgen said in a statement three NFL executives told her the league remains fully behind the stadium project.

The lease terms scheduled to become official Aug. 23 include the MSFA’s “planned process for a detailed audit and oversight of the Vikings financing plan for the stadium, along with a review of their assets and financial position that will back their stadium financing plan.”

The board will use a national accounting firm and its own law firm for auditing purposes, Kelm-Helgen said.

The stadium is slated to be ready in time for the 2016 football season. Its predecessor, the Metrodome, will be torn down after the Vikings’ 2013-14 campaign concludes, and the team will play in the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium for two seasons.

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