Vikings stadium: Waiting on Wilf ruling?

The delay in a ruling regarding monetary damages in the Wilf development case in New Jersey could delay the Vikings stadium project in Minnesota.

The Wilf family is awaiting a decision from a New Jersey judge in a civil court case over damages from a 20-year-old lawsuit in which the Wilfs were found to have violated several laws. While there has been some media speculation that the decision would come down as early as today, reports out of New Jersey are claiming the decision will likely come next month. Attorneys have been arguing the net worth of the Wilf family and the amount of damages that should be awarded this week.

Two weeks ago, Morris County (N.J.) Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson ruled that the Wilfs defrauded other investor partners of their fair share of the 764-unit apartment Rachel Gardens development project in the City of Montville, stating the Wilfs dealt in "bad faith and evil motive." Judge Wilson ruled that misleading bookkeeping practices were used that gave the Wilfs a disproportionate share of the income from the project – ruling that the family committed fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and violated state civil RICO statutes – racketeering statutes that have been used to bring down mafia bosses who sheltered money from illegal enterprises. At the center of the argument are management fees that the Wilfs charged to the project, which are significantly higher than the standard management fee rates.

In the days following the initial judgment Aug. 8, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton questioned whether the court ruling would impact the Wilfs' ability to cover their end of the construction costs for a new Vikings stadium – more than $400 million. The state and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) are currently conducting a review of the Wilf finances and, after ground was expected to be broken in October for the new stadium project, the Associated Press reported that might be delayed until November at the earliest. Given the aggressive timelines to complete the stadium by July 2016, any delays could lead to potential cost overruns.

Judge Wilson's pending ruling will be based on the Wilfs' net worth and she will consider awarding monetary damages – actual damages and potential punitive damages. Considering that the case has been dragged through the court system for 21 years and attorney fees alone have topped the $5 million mark for the Wilfs to defend their position, the family net worth is a critical component to the case. While the plaintiffs in the case are seeking at least $50 million, punitive damages could be excessive.

Attorneys for both sides of the lawsuit have been arguing this week over the level of culpability the Wilfs have, what they should have legitimately shared with their business partners and what they should have realistically charged for property management fees.

While both sides await the decision concerning damages in the New Jersey courtroom, things are heating up in Minnesota as well. Yesterday, Michele Kelm-Helgen, the chair of the MSFA, announced that the Vikings broke off talks on the numerous agreements that need to be made throughout the construction process. Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of stadium development told the Star Tribune newspaper that there is no reason to continue negotiations while the authority is conducting its internal investigation.

While the project remains temporarily on hold, the decision from a New Jersey courtroom could hold the key to when the stadium project goes forward. While both the Vikings and the state have stated they don't believe the project will fall through, the wait continues.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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