By Don Davis
Gov. Mark Dayton wants an investigation into owners of the Minnesota Vikings in light of a New Jersey judge’s critical comments about them this week in a 21-year-old lawsuit.
Dayton Thursday asked the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to have its lawyers examine a state stadium construction agreement with the owners to “assure them and the people of Minnesota that all of the representations made by the team and its owners are truthful and accurate.”
Dayton said the real estate legal dispute is not related to the nearly $1 billion stadium, but he wants to make sure the owners were up and up in their negotiations with the state.
If the Wilf family was not truthful in negotiating with Minnesota, Dayton said the state may want to take another look at its agreement to help build a nearly $1 billion stadium.
Primary Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf issued a statement saying they “have assured all parties that this civil lawsuit will have absolutely no impact on the stadium project.” They did not specifically address Dayton’s concern whether they were honest in their negotiations with the state.
The Wilfs, longtime New Jersey real estate developers, said the $447 million in private funding they are to obtain is secure. The state and Minneapolis are providing the rest of the funding.
Dayton said the final agreement is expected to be signed by the state and the Wilfs in early October. Groundbreaking is expected this fall, with the first football game set for 2016.
The governor’s concerns came after Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson in Morris County, N.J., lashed out at the Wilfs, and their cousin, Leonard, during proceedings this week in an old lawsuit involving a 764-unit apartment complex.
“The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself,” Wilson was quoted on NJ.com.
The civil lawsuit accuses the Wilfs of cheating business partners and giving the Wilfs more income from the property than they were due. The lawsuit is filed under the New Jersey racketeering law.
“It is far away from standards of business activity we have in Minnesota,” Dayton said Thursday at Farmfest, a southwest Minnesota farm show.
Most of the agreement between the state and Vikings is in state law, so Dayton said if irregularities are found that the Legislature might need to rewrite the law.
The governor said he did not expect the sports authority’s investigation to be done by the time lawmakers return to a special session, probably on Sept. 9, to deal with disaster funding.
The Legislature is due to return in regular session next Feb. 25.