A New Jersey real estate mogul who is also the principal owner of the Minnesota Vikings and two of his relatives systematically cheated their partners out of their rightful share of revenues from an apartment complex, a judge ruled Monday in a 21-year legal battle.
Zygmunt "Zygi" Wilf, his brother Mark and cousin Leonard committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty and violated New Jersey's civil racketeering law, the judge concluded.
The family members were sued by partners in a 764-unit apartment complex in Montville, Ada Reichmann and her brother Josef Halpern, who had been the complex's longtime manager. Reichmann, of Toronto, and Halpern, of Brooklyn, are seeking more than $50 million.
Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson said she will announce the rest of her ruling and the damages in the next two weeks.
The judge said Wilf himself had testified that he had reneged on an arrangement, worked out by his uncle when the complex was under construction, because he felt the partners had gotten "too good a deal," The Star-Ledger of of Newark reported.
"The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself," Wilson said.
The judge said the Wilf family failed to meet the "barest minimum" of their responsibilities as business partners, adding: "I do not believe I have seen one single financial statement that is true and accurate."
The family violated the partnership agreement by taking out "grossly disproportionate management fees," charging unreasonable interest and inflated advertising costs to the partnership and used revenues from the apartment complex to pay staff members who worked elsewhere, the judge found.
The Wilfs' lead attorney, Shep Guryan, issued a statement saying the family has earned "a well-deserved reputation for integrity and honest dealings."
"As with many businesses, disputes occasionally arise, and since we are currently in the midst of a legal process to resolve this civil lawsuit, we must decline further comment," he said.
Wilson was the fourth judge to be involved in the legal battle, and delayed her retirement to hear the case to its end. The first lawsuit in the dispute was filed in 1992. An appeals court ruling in 2006 sent the case back to the Superior Court, and the case went to trial for a second time in 2011.
Information from: The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger