By Don Davis
The agency building a new Vikings football stadium has delayed signing paperwork with the team and hired investigators to look into finances of team owners after a New Jersey judge harshly criticized the owners.
Chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority announced Tuesday that the organization is beginning to look into whether brothers Zygi and Mark Wilf were honest in their negotiations to build the nearly $1 billion stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
The authority hired Peter W. Carter, co-chairman of the securities litigation and enforcement practice of the prestigious Minneapolis-based Dorsey and Whitney law firm. Also working on the investigation will be FTI Consulting, an international forensic accounting firm.
“While the due diligence review is underway, the MSFA and the Minnesota Vikings will continue to work to complete the use and development agreements that will outline the business relationship between the parties,” Kelm-Helgen said in a written statement.
However, an Aug. 23 meeting to consider the agreements has been postponed until after the investigation.
Kelm-Helgen said investigators will look into the 21-year-old New Jersey court case that produced a judge’s strong rebuke, check other Wilf-related legal cases, “perform extensive background checks,” review National Football League paperwork and examine the Wilfs’ financial footing in regard to the stadium.
Tuesday’s action comes after Gov. Mark Dayton last week asked the sports authority to examine the Wilfs in light New Jersey Judge Deanne Wilson’s comments about the Wilfs and their cousin, Leonard, during racketeering proceedings in a lawsuit involving a 764-unit apartment complex.
“The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself,” Wilson said.
Dayton said the real estate legal dispute does not appear to be connected to the nearly $1 billion stadium, but he wanted to make sure the owners were honest in their negotiations with the state.
If problems are found during the investigation, the authority and Dayton administration can make only small changes. If the issues are serious enough, the Legislature would have to rewrite law authorizing stadium construction and funding.
The Wilfs last week issued a statement saying the New Jersey court case will have no impact on stadium construction. They did not address Dayton’s concerns about whether they were truthful when dealing with state officials.
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.
Kelm-Helgen said that her agency and the Vikings will continue to work together during the investigation.
“We do not expect this to affect the overall project timeline, as progress continues between the Minnesota Vikings and the MSFA,” she said.
Final pre-construction paperwork is due to be signed in October, Dayton said, when a groundbreaking is planned. The stadium is to be open in 2016.
The New Jersey lawsuit accuses the Wilfs of cheating business partners.