They may as well have sealed their own mouths with duct tape.
In presenting the conclusions of their due-diligence report on the financial probity and solvency of Vikings owners Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf, Michele Kelm-Helgen, chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, and Peter Carter, a lawyer with Dorsey & Whitney, added very little to what the public had previously learned.
“You kinda wonder why they bother to have a press conference if they’re not going to say anything,” commented one of my fellow reporters on the way out of the Metrodome. Yeah, you kinda do.
The Sports Authority had told us all a week ago that the Wilfs had enough dough to pay for their portion of the new stadium, about $277 million (a total of $477 million minus a $200 combo loan/grant from the National Football League).
Even if the New Jersey judge who recently found the Wilfs guilty of fraud, among other things, assesses punitive damages and they actually pay (remember, they can and probably will appeal), they’re good for the stadium dough. The due diligence team estimated that a “worst-case scenario” amount would apparently put only a ding in the family’s vast wealth, which — and, oh, I am tired of writing this, Sports Illustrated estimated to be about $310 million a few years ago.
Journalists wanted to know: What is that worst-case amount? Carter wouldn’t say.
He did, however, mention that in New Jersey, when a court awards punitive damages, it automatically turns the case over to the county prosecutor and the state attorney general “for investigation whether a criminal act has been committed by the defendant.”
Call me cynical, but I don’t think there will be a very robust inquiry. Zygi Wilf served on a blue-ribbon real-estate advisory board established by former Gov. John Corzine, and his son-in-law Brett Tanzman is assistant counsel to current Gov. Chris Christie.
In any case, Carter pointed out that the NFL pledged, in a letter to the authority, that it would require any future Vikings owner to hold to the agreements signed by the Wilfs. So, if, on the off chance that one or all of la famiglia Wilf are convicted of some heinous financial crime, sent to the hoosegow and forced to give up team ownership under whatever rectitude requirement the league enforces, a new owner would have to follow through on the stadium.
• The Wilfs’ backgrounds are clear of any criminal record; that should come as no surprise since both Zygi and Leonard are lawyers who probably would have been disbarred by now if they’d done something horribly sketchy.
• They pay their taxes.
• And while they’ve been involved in “numerous lawsuits over the years,” most involved complaints by vendors and tenants. And, added Carter, they cropped up in every jurisdiction where the Wilfs had holdings.
And what jurisdictions would those be, I asked. I wanted to look at some of the complaints to see if the Wilfs were cheesy in paying suppliers or put up apartment houses crummy enough to prompt renters to sue.
“I’d better not say,” Carter said.
The investigation, we were told, was extensive, involving “15 to 20 professionals working around the clock,” he noted. They examined thousands of documents to arrive at their conclusions.
So how much did this elaborate investigation cost?
Kelm-Helgen said she didn’t know because she hadn’t received any billings yet. (My estimate is about $2 million to $3 million—28 days at 24 hours per times 15 professionals billing $200 to $300 an hour each.)
Would the Wilfs pay?
Well, the Authority had already set aside a vague amount for audits and other financial caretaking, she said. It would bill any amount over that to the Wilfs. Whether they’ll pay — happily or not — is another question.
And, after all that, the Wilfs’ finances remain as secret as Area 51.
FTI, the Florida forensic accounting firm that studied their assets, confirmed that they owned and owed what they said they did — and apparently they didn’t owe an abnormally high amount. However, as I had guessed, there was no way any accounting firm smaller than the size of the U.S. Army could assess the value of all of the Wilfs’ properties. FTI “made an independent sample selection of holdings from the Wilfs’ statements of net worth and evaluated financial status.”
Kelm-Helgen has seen the Wilfs’ statement of net worth herself, but the information will never become public from her. Not only does the enabling legislation for the stadium forbid disclosure of the Wilfs’ and the Vikings’ finances, but she has signed a confidentiality agreement, promising not to divulge any details.
What would happen if she violated it?
“I haven’t gone there,” she said.