Updated at: 09/23/2013 8:06 PM
By PATRICK CONDON
(AP) ST. PAUL, Minn. - A judge in New Jersey on Monday ordered Minnesota Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf and their cousin Leonard Wilf to pay $84.5 million to two former business partners who she previously ruled they had defrauded in a 1980s real estate deal.
The ruling from Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson covered compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiffs Josef Halpern and Ada Reichmann. It also includes a redistribution of real estate profits dating to the lawsuit’s initial filing, in 1992. Attorneys for the Wilfs promised an appeal.
Wilson ruled last month that the Wilfs had committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty, and violated the state’s civil racketeering laws. In a stinging rebuke, Wilson said then that Zygi Wilf demonstrated "bad faith and evil motive" in his trial testimony.
"We believe this decision will not stand on appeal," said Peter Harvey, an attorney for the Wilfs. He, along with Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley, once again vowed the legal troubles would have no bearing on the Wilfs’ ability to meet the Vikings’ $477 million commitment on the $1 billion football stadium planned for downtown Minneapolis.
Zygi Wilf leads an ownership group, which includes Mark Wilf, that bought the Vikings in 2005 for $600 million.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton pushed hard for taxpayer funding of the stadium and often stood with the Wilfs at news conferences. But after Wilson’s first ruling, Dayton said the lawsuit highlighted business practices by the Wilfs that "are far from the legal standards for doing business in Minnesota."
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is supervising the stadium project, quickly launched a review of the Wilfs’ finances and legal troubles, to ensure they could still meet the Vikings’ $477 million commitment to the nearly $1 billion stadium. Taxpayers are covering the rest.
That review wrapped up earlier this month and found the Wilfs should have no problem meeting their commitment even in the face of the heaviest possible fines. The attorney who conducted the review described the Wilfs’ wealth as "significant."
The team is also eligible for an NFL loan of up to $200 million, and the stadium legislation lets them receive money from stadium naming rights and from seat licenses for season-ticket holders.
Halpern, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and his sister Reichmann, of Toronto, had said the Wilfs cheated them out of their share of profits from a 764-unit apartment complex in Montville, N.J. Halpern had been the complex’s longtime manager.
An attorney for Halpern did not immediately return an email from The Associated Press seeking comment on the ruling.
The stadium authority’s review of the Wilfs’ legal troubles raised one red flag: that under New Jersey law, the civil verdict could trigger criminal investigations by state or county prosecutors in the state. But Harvey said such criminal probes of civil verdicts are extremely rare.
"While it may be an area of curiosity, as a matter of fact it just doesn’t happen," Harvey said. He predicted that the long-running case would probably not be resolved by the planned 2016 opening of the new stadium.
"The stadium will be built and there will be an opening kickoff long before this is decided by the appellate court and likely, the New Jersey Supreme Court," Harvey said. "It has no impact on stadium construction."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)