The Minnesota Vikings say a civil lawsuit against some members of their ownership group will not affect the team's finances or plans for a new stadium.
Brothers Zygi and Mark Wilf and their cousin, Leonard, committed fraud, breach of contract and fiduciary duty, and had violated New Jersey's civil racketeering law, a judge ruled on Monday in a 21-year legal battle.
The Wilfs were sued by partners in a 764-unit apartment complex in Montville. Ada Reichmann, of Toronto, and her brother Josef Halpern, of Brooklyn, said they were cheated out of their fair share of revenue from the project. They are seeking more than $50 million in damages.
Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson said she will announce the rest of the ruling and the damages in the next two weeks, but Vikings vice president of public affairs Lester Bagley said any judgment will not influence the team's payroll or the development of a new billion-dollar stadium in downtown Minneapolis that is scheduled to begin this fall.
"This is a private business matter and involves a business dispute," Vikings vice president of public affairs Lester Bagley said. "But it will not impact the Vikings or the stadium project."
The dispute began in 1992 when Reichmann and Halpern, who had been the complex's longtime manager, filed the first lawsuit.
In her ruling on Monday, Wilson said that the Wilf family failed to meet the "barest minimum" of their responsibilities as business partners, adding: "I do not believe I have seen one single financial statement that is true and accurate."
"The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself," Wilson said.
Wilson said that Zygi Wilf, the principal owner of the Vikings, testified during the trial that he reneged on the deal.
The family violated the partnership agreement by taking out "grossly disproportionate management fees," charging unreasonable interest and inflated advertising costs to the partnership and used revenues from the apartment complex to pay staff members who worked elsewhere, the judge found.
The Wilfs' lead attorney, Shep Guryan, issued a statement saying the family has earned "a well-deserved reputation for integrity and honest dealings."
"As with many businesses, disputes occasionally arise, and since we are currently in the midst of a legal process to resolve this civil lawsuit, we must decline further comment," he said.
Wilson was the fourth judge to be involved in the legal battle, and delayed her retirement to hear the case to its end. An appeals court ruling in 2006 sent the case back to the Superior Court, and the case went to trial for a second time in 2011.
It is a civil case between business partners, meaning there have been no investigations into or allegations of criminal wrongdoing. The Wilfs could face a hefty fine when Wilson issues the rest of her ruling, which can be appealed.