VIKINGS STADIUM: Will Wilf lawsuit delay construction? - KMSP-TV

VIKINGS STADIUM: Will Wilf lawsuit delay construction?

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

Could Zygi Wilf's past end up costing the Vikings the future? The team owner's legal problems have the potential to put the stadium project on hold while local leaders look for finance fouls.

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority and the Wilfs were going to sign a new lease agreement next week, but the agency has since hit the pause button so they can get a replay of the owner's professional history to find out if there are any other lawsuits in the wings.

While no one is saying that the deal is in "jeopardy" -- at least, not yet, there is plenty of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on in Minneapolis.

Not one brick has been laid for the so-called "people's stadium," but some are getting cold feet after a New Jersey judge ruled against Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf in a 20-year lawsuit over a real estate deal gone bad, saying the Wilfs acted in "bad faith and evil intent."

"We want to make sure we look at what else is out there to make sure we don't have further surprises," said Michele Kelm-Helgen, president of MSFA.

That's why the stadium authority has hired attorney and racketeering specialist Peter Carter to conduct a forensic financial exam of the Wilfs.

"We want to make sure there are enough funds to back up the loans," Kelm-Helgen explained.

Even Gov. Mark Dayton admitted he's lost some faith in the deal as a result of the ruling.

"Certainly, it undermines my confidence and veracity of the agreement we worked out with them," he said.

Not only that, but the electronic pull tabs that were expected to be a financing source for the state still look like a bust because they are only generating a fraction of the expected revenue.

"It's been very disappointing," Kelm-Helgen conceded.

Former Minnesota Sen. John Howe is now saying, "I told you so." The Republican had proposed taxing Vikings merchandise, seats and naming rights.

"Unfortunately, I think we've been boxed in now, and it's not going to be good for the people of Minnesota," Howe said.

Howe said that when he proposed taxing the Vikings' memorabilia, he quickly discovered the guys from New Jersey were the ones calling the shots.

"We're ill-prepared to deal with real estate developers of that magnitude," he said.

In the end, Minnesotans are learning what always should have been known -- the Wilfs are shrewd businessmen, maybe even ruthless. Without a lease, they're free to leave. Meanwhile, they're holding most of the cards and clearly, they're the better poker players.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley told FOX 9 News the team will cooperate with the audit, but skeptics wonder if the devil may be found in those details.

"This stadium is going to cost taxpayers $1 billion with revenue for bonds, so we should be paying attention," Howe said.

Bagley told FOX 9 News the New Jersey lawsuit "has absolutely no impact on the Wilfs' operation of the Vikings or financing of the stadium," and both the team and the MFSA say everything else will keep moving forward while the review, which is expected to take a few weeks, is completed. Of course, the concern is that any delay will only drive up the billion-dollar price tag.

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