Vikings owners trying to shield personal wealth in New Jersey court

Zygi Wilf’s wealth has drawn Minnesota’s attention before. He reportedly bought a home in this Manhatten building for  $19 million in 2011, as stadium talks began in earnest. (MPR News/Tim Nelson)

The owners of the Minnesota Vikings are looking to shield their personal finances from public view as they battle over a real estate deal in civil court in New Jersey.

A judge there ruled against Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf, owners of the Vikings, saying they cheated their partners in a development deal.

Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson is in the process of deciding damages, which some fear could be large enough to impact the Vikings.

The team is about to sign a deal with the state of Minnesota that has them on the hook for $477 million of a new $975 million stadium.

Now, the Wilfs are trying to get the judge to keep their personal financial details secret.

Here’s what their attorney, Sheppard Guryan, told Judge Wilson in a brief arguing for her to keep the Wilfs finances sealed:

“It is beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Wilfs will suffer an injury should their net worth be made public… The financial Stipulation contains assessments of the Wilfs’ private wealth. Access by the public at large to these assessments will be an invasive encroachment on their private lives, potentially resulting in harassment of the Wilfs and their families, including some cases involving minor children.

Moreover, as the courts are well aware, all of the Wilfs are members of highly competitive business communities including realty and professional sports. Giving the public access to the net worth of each of these individuals is akin to publishing their profit and loss statements, providing the Wilfs’ competitors, as well as those seeking to do business with them, an advantage in their business dealings and negotiations.

Public production of the stipulation would harm the private lives of the Wilfs by invading their privacy for no cognizable reason. It would harm their business lives by giving their adversaries competitive information that could be used against them in future dealings. Harms abound should the Stipulation be available to the public.

The judge has ordered the Wilfs’ financial information to be unsealed, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reports, although she will give them the chance to appeal her order before the information goes public. The paper says the judge “will be using the “net worth” figure as part of her calculation of punitive damages to be awarded to two business partners, Josef Halpern of Brooklyn and Ada Reichmann of Toronto, who the judge has ruled were cheated by the Wilfs out of more than 21 years of revenues from Rachel Gardens, a 764-unit apartment complex in Montville.”

The paper also describes that stipulation: “The Wilfs have “stipulated” they have the ability to pay, no matter how high the damages award, Guryan said.

The prospective disclosure has already drawn the appreciation of Gov. Mark Dayton. His administration, in the form of the state-chartered Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, is in the final negotiations with the Vikings over a use and development agreement for the new stadium — essentially the final financial details of Minnesota’s 30-year partnership with the team in the new facility.

“I understand why the Wilfs aren’t in favor of it. But I also believe that transparency is generally in the public interest. So in this case, I’m glad that the judge has made the determination that she has,” Dayton said.

It isn’t the first time the Wilfs’ wealth has come up in stadium talks. Zygi Wilf raised eyebrows in 2011 when he reportedly bought a home on the top floors of an Upper East Side building on Park Avenue for $19 million.

But it’s also unclear how much of the Wilfs fortune a stadium deal might impact. An MPR News analysis of other NFL stadium deals indicates that naming rights and personal seat license revenue similar to other NFL teams, along with a League-subsidized loan, could pay for more than 99 percent of the money the Vikings have pledged as their part of the stadium financing.

UPDATE: Here’s the complete pleadings, including letters from the Wilfs themselves, released on Tuesday: