The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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State, national news

August 14, 2013

Governor: Faith in Vikings 'undermined' by owners

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota's governor said Wednesday that his confidence in the owners of the Minnesota Vikings has been "undermined" by questionable business ethics, but he also warned that state risks losing its pro football team if a nearly $1 billion stadium deal unravels.

Gov. Mark Dayton told a Minnesota Public Radio call-in show that he agrees a final stadium agreement shouldn't be quickly signed now that an outside consultant has been hired to review the financial backgrounds of Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf. The brothers were recently chastised by a judge who said they violated fraud laws during a real estate deal in New Jersey.

"I will reserve judgment on the question, 'Is this part of a broader pattern or is an aberration?' until we have had that comprehensive review," Dayton said. "It certainly undermined my confidence in their veracity and what they presented to us."

Earlier this month, a judge found the Wilfs in violation of New Jersey civil racketeering and fraud laws in an apartment development deal. In making her ruling, the judge condemned the tactics of the Wilf family as being done with "bad faith and evil motive," according to a New Jersey-Star Ledger account of a court hearing.

The ruling came in a lawsuit that has been wending its way through the courts for two decades.

Vikings officials have said that ruling shouldn't impede the $975 million stadium deal in Minnesota and that the owners will cooperate with the extensive background check. Vikings vice president Lester Bagley didn't immediately return a call Wednesday about the governor's latest comments.

The stadium financing package that Dayton helped broker is among the signature issues tackled in his first term. A breakdown would be a political embarrassment as the Democrat asks voters for a second term next year.

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