Reporting Esme Murphy
Filed underBusiness, Consumer, Local, News, Politics, Seen On WCCO-TV, Sports, Syndicated Local, Syndicated Sports, Vikings, Watch + Listen
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Vikings stadium final leases were scheduled for votes this Friday at the Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission. But now those votes are on hold until an investigation into the Wilf family’s finances can be completed.
Gov. Mark Dayton ordered the investigation after a New Jersey court found that the Wilfs were guilty of civil fraud and had acted with evil intent in a business dealing going back 20 years.
On Tuesday, the Vikings voiced concerns that the investigation could lead to costly construction delays for both the team and taxpayers.
While the nearly $1 billion project is on hold for now, legal experts say it’s unlikely the deal will come undone.
“Unless there is something that gets turned up that we don’t know, I don’t think there is grounds not to go forward,” said professor Dan Kleinberger of William Mitchell College of Law.
Within weeks the New Jersey judge is expected to announce punitive damages against the Wilfs that could be in the tens of millions of dollars.
“Regardless of how the lawsuit turns out, it will have zero effect on the Wilfs’ ability to finance the stadium,” said Vikings vice-president Lester Bagley.
But with groundbreaking set for October, the Vikings warn any drawn out investigation of the Wilfs’ finances will lead to construction delays that could cost the family and taxpayers millions.
The public share of the $975 million project is $498 million. The Wilfs’ share is $477 million. The investigation into the Wilfs’ finances will take several weeks.
It’s an unpredictable situation not only for the Wilfs but for political leaders who threw their support behind the stadium.
“If things start to go south — questions start arise, there’s uncertainty about whether the Wilfs can make due on their financial commitments — there could be a real political pain here, particularly for Gov. Dayton as he heads into 2014, his reelection campaign,” said professor Larry Jacobs of the Humphrey School.
The Chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, Michele Kelm-Helgen, says the state will bill the cost of the additional investigation into the Wilfs finances to the Wilfs. At this point, it is a cost the Wilfs have not agreed to pay.
“We obviously are doing a very deep dive into the information to make sure the taxpayers are protected,” Kelm-Helgen said.