Wilfs must pay $85 million in NJ real estate dispute, Vikings stadium moves ahead

Stadium front
Rendering of main entrance of new Vikings stadium (HKS Architects)

Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf will have to pay a former real estate partner $84.5 million in damages in a dispute dating back to the construction of a 764-unit New Jersey apartment building in the 1980s. That includes $36 million in punitive damages, and about $48 million in compensatory damages, an attorney for the Wilfs said.

Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson handed down her ruling on the damages today, more than a month after finding that the Wilfs had cheated partners Ada Reichmann and Joseph Halpern out of their share of the complex.

Wilf attorney Shep Guryan said called the finding an error and said that he expected that the Wilfs would prevail in an appeal.

The ruling caps more than 21 years in court, culminating in the Aug. 5 ruling against the Wilfs, who are the three principal owners of the Minnesota Vikings. That decision prompted fears that the damages might be so large that they might keep the Wilfs from paying for their share of the $975 million stadium the state is building for the Vikings.

But an audit by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority released earlier this month that even a "worst case scenario" for the Wilfs in court was unlikely to impact the team's financial capacity.

"It never was an issue," said Peter Harvey, one of the Wilfs attorneys.

MSFA chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen, agreed. "We're very comfortable that the family has the resources to move ahead with the stadium, with this ruling from the judge," Kelm-Helgen said this afternoon in response to the court's ruling. "This was not a surprise for us."

Sports Illustrated estimated Zygi Wilf's net worth at $310 million in 2010. But he, his brother Mark and cousin Leonard are also heirs to the Garden Homes empire which includes more than 25 million square feet of retail and commercial space from California to Connecticut. The family business was founded by Wilf's father and uncle and has sold a reported 40,000 homes, and now owns and manages more than 50,000 apartments, according to websites of the various Wilf companies.

The actual cost to the Vikings of the new stadium isn't clear.

The team pledged $477 million for the facility, but has already announced $200 million in NFL-subsidized financing. Previous NFL deals indicate the team could expect to net more than $150 million more from fans when the MSFA sells seat licenses on the team's behalf. A typical naming rights deal could pay the equivalent of $120 million in present value for the team. Together, those three sources of revenue could potentially cover more than 99 percent of the team's pledge, according to an MPR News analysis of the stadium deal.

The New Jersey court case is subject to appeal, so it may be months or years in the future before final costs, including attorneys fees, are tallied. New Jersey law also requires the case to be referred to prosecutors for a potential criminal investigation, although it isn't clear what risk of indictment or criminal charges the Wilfs might face.

Harvey, the Wilf's attorney, said that no similar civil case had resulted in criminal charges in at least 15 years, and that there was little risk that there would be any criminal action.

In the meantime, the state of Minnesota is poised to execute its deal with the Vikings for a new stadium at the end of this week. The MSFA is expecting to finalize a use and development agreement with the team, including a decades-long lease, rent and other financial details.

The state's office of Management and Budget released a "request for proposals" today, soliciting financial services companies to help the state sell $498 worth of stadium bonds. Those proposals are due Oct. 9.

UPDATE: Here's the order on the Wilf's penalty:

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