Vikings stadium: Final report adds little info to conclusion that Wilfs can pay their share

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Chair Michele Kelm-Helgen has seen the Wilfs' net worth, but the information will never become public from her.

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.”

MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Peter Carter is a lawyer with Dorsey & Whitney, who helped complete the due-diligence report.

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.

Other findings:

• 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.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/14/2013 - 06:03 am.

    Debt

    So the NFL isn’t guaranteeing the debt?

  2. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/14/2013 - 07:56 am.

    Two criminal investigations of Wilfs = “little info” ??????

    The latest Kool-Aid being handed out by Michelle Kelm-Helgen is to poo-poo the possibility that the Wilfs could be charged and convicted as criminals. To paraphrase her, “Don’t worry ! The NFL will take care of it all – they’ll bring us new owners ! ”

    It was the NFL that brought us the Wilfs and their gutter-level business ethics in the first place. In fact, the Wilfs’ business ethics and the business ethics of the NFL are wonderfully aligned, a match made in heaven. But both operate in an ethical matrix thoroughly rejected by most Minnesotans, if not the MSFA.

    Ms. Kelm-Helgen was quoted that in her view, the report ” really gives the authority and the public the reassurance that we can move forward with the stadium project.”

    Nothing could be further from the truth. Quite to the contrary, It would be malfeasant, the height of irresponsibility, for the MSFA to conclude any further agreements with the Wilfs while they are being investigated for criminal prosecution.

    Ms. Kelm-Helgen has proven a reliable cheerleader for the project, but unequal to her responsibilities to the public.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2013 - 09:32 am.

    Foregone conclusion

    One never gets great detail on the reasoning behind foregone conclusions. It’s impossible to imagine a scenario where this perverse process could arrive a different conclusion. Meanwhile the Twins just got a new $89 million “transit hub” next to their stadium at taxpayers expense… and so it goes.

    This is why none of the this stuff is public infrastructure, and it’s a sick joke to refer to something like this as a “peoples” stadium. The people’s business is public, you can actually look the salary of any state employee, and request a budget for any state project or department. Yet if you try to find out exactly how much these teams are contributing to these so-called public amenities, you’ll find it’s private information.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/15/2013 - 07:05 am.

    The obvious

    Look, these are real estate guys from New Jersey. What could possibly go wrong?

  5. Submitted by Jonathan Williams on 09/15/2013 - 08:51 pm.

    Stop bilking taxpayers for stadiums (and everything else)

    Let the fans pay. PERIOD. If they are not willing to pay enough to support a stadium, why should the rest of us be forced to pay for stadiums. MN taxes are CRAZY HIGH already. Stop the spending madness.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/16/2013 - 08:23 am.

    Obvious, indeed

    I’m with Hiram Foster on this one, with one small added factor.

    When have really wealthy people *ever* been transparent about just how much they have, and where they got it, and where it now resides? They might not always articulate it quite as bluntly as the Wilf’s stated “threat to my family,” but the same anxiety exists, whether it’s stated or not. As I recall, the Republican candidate for President in 2012 refused to provide tax or income information beyond the bare minimum required by campaign laws, and the Democratic candidate was not much more forthcoming. Members of the 1% would very much prefer to direct our attention elsewhere — welfare cheats, lazy workers, socialist conspiracies, etc.

  7. Submitted by John Smith on 09/16/2013 - 10:52 am.

    Stop privatizing profits and socializing losses

    Why are we paying for any stadiums? If the business model doesnt work, it doesn’t work. Why do the tax payers have to pay the gap for these purchases if the numbers don’t work on the investment…it looks like the owners can afford a cheaper stadium so why are the people paying for his Ferrari?

    And why do voters keep voting in people that are willing to give taxes to businesses? The cronyism and corruption of both parties needs to stop, but hey as long as voters are given a little here and a little there and governemnt officials get those neat jobs in the “private sector” this will continue.

  8. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/16/2013 - 03:56 pm.

    And Your Own Diligence?

    Ms. Harris repeats the old canard that the Wilfs will pay $277M ($477M less the league’s $200M). And what about the naming rights on this public stadium? We build the stadium, the Wilfs selling the naming rights.

    They will not have to come up with $277M. It will be far less than that, and I’m not even mentioning the personal seat licenses.

    They can afford their share because it’s about 12 bucks out of pocket.

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