At a time when Browns owner Jimmy Haslam faces criminal and civil allegations of fraud, a judge in New Jersey has found that Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf actually committed civil fraud — more than two decades ago.
According to Ben Horowitz of the Newark Star-Ledger, Judge Deanne Wilson summarized on Monday her findings regarding a 21-year-old lawsuit that culminated in a two-year trial.
“To my knowledge, there has never been a case like this in New Jersey jurisprudence,” Judge Wilson said. “We try to move cases along. There is no reason in the world for a case to be tried 20 years after it was filed.”
She delayed her retirement to resolve the case, which still isn’t resolved. In two weeks Judge Wilson will provide details and list damages. For now, she found that the Wilfs and their cousin, Leonard, liable for fraud, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. She also found that they violated the New Jersey civil racketeering statute.
The case arose from claims that the Wilfs cheated their business partners out of revenues from Rachel Gardens, a 764-unit apartment facility in Montville, New Jersey. Judge Wilson concluded that the Wilfs engaged in “organized-crime-type activities” in the bookkeeping practices that resulted in the Wilfs making more money than they should have.
The plaintiffs, Ada Reichmann and her brother, Josef Halpern, will receive compensatory damages, punitive damages, treble damages, a redistribution of revenues dating back to 1992, and reimbursement for their attorneys’ fees.
Judge Wilson pointed to the testimony of Zygi Wilf as evidence of “bad faith and evil motive,” and that Wilf admitted that he believed Reichmann got “too good a deal” and “reneged” on the original arrangement that had been made in the 1980s, by Zygi Wilf’s uncle, Harry Wilf.
“The Wilf family has been in business for 58 years and has earned a well-deserved reputation for integrity and honest dealings,” their lawyer, Shep Guryan, told the Star-Ledger. “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.”
Appeals surely will follow, and the process undoubtedly will continue for at least another year or two.
For now, the key point is that a judge has found that the Wilfs engaged in the same kind of behavior that has Jimmy Haslam currently sweating out a federal indictment. The best news for the Wilfs is that the statutes of limitations for any potential criminal charges have likely long since expired.