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Judge levies $84.5 million penalty on Vikings owners

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A judge’s order that the Minnesota Vikings owners must pay $84.5 million to settle a lawsuit should not affect construction of a new stadium.

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A New Jersey judge Monday ordered Vikings owners, brothers Zygi and Mark Wilf, and a cousin to pay that amount to former real estate partners in a 21-year-old racketeering lawsuit.

During a day-long Morristown, N.J., hearing, Judge Deanne Wilson said that the Wilfs “robbed their partners” in a 1980s apartment project.

The Wilfs, who were not in the courtroom, will appeal Wilson’s decision. Their attorneys said Wilson made many mistakes in the case and they expect to win.

Even if the Wilfs eventually are ordered to pay at the end of the appeals process, it “is going to be easily two or three years, so the stadium will be built and there will be an opening kickoff long before this case is decided,” said Peter Harvey, one of the Wilfs’ attorneys.

“Nothing that the judge decided will affect the stadium construction,” Harvey added.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said talks with the stadium authority are progressing well: “We believe this project will be built on time and on budget.”

The authority is expected to approve final construction contracts with the Vikings in coming days.

Earlier this month, the Minnesota agency in charge of building a new Vikings stadium said the Wilfs could uphold their construction financial obligation even if Wilson ordered them to pay damages.

Wilson said that with the Wilfs’ worth, there was no amount of damage that she could levy that would penalize the family.

The judge ordered Zygi Wilf to pay 60 percent of the damages, with Mark and Leonard Wilf each responsible for 20 percent.

The lawsuit over the Rachel Gardens apartment complex has been heard by four judges over the years, and Wilson delayed her retirement so she could finish it.

When Wilson found the Wilfs guilty last month, she said: “The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself.”

The verdict prompted Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to ask the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to investigate whether the Wilfs have enough money to pay their share of stadium construction costs. That investigation came back indicating the family can pay, and plans to build the stadium continued. The Wilfs are to provide $477 million for the nearly $1 billion stadium.

The stadium will be next to the Metrodome and is to be a multi-purpose facility. Groundbreaking is planned for this fall, with the Vikings scheduled to play their first game in the stadium in 2016.

Don Davis, Forum News Service

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