---- — 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.
Dayton said the stakes could be even higher: The Vikings are no longer under lease to play in Minnesota and the out-of-state owners could seek to relocate the team if the project gets shelved.
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which will oversee the new stadium, announced Tuesday that it had hired Peter Carter, a senior litigator at the Minneapolis law firm Dorsey & Whitney, to review the Wilfs' financial backgrounds.
However, the public won't get a chance to see what Carter's team examines because the Vikings stadium legislation approved in 2012 exempted the information from open records laws.
After Wednesday's radio show, Dayton told reporters that the business representations of the Wilfs mattered because it contributed to the overall structure of a stadium plan in which the team pledged $477 million in private financing. The state and city of Minneapolis are paying the remaining $498 million.
The lease agreement still needs to be ratified by the stadium authority. It will determine the public and private shares of ongoing operating expenses and touch on what the team plans to charge fans in upfront fees if they want to buy a season ticket.
The agreement was supposed to be considered at an Aug. 23 hearing, but that has now been deferred.
"It's on hold regrettably but necessarily, given the situation," Dayton said.
Major construction on the stadium project is due to begin in October. If all goes as planned, the new stadium will open in time for the 2016 season.
Michele Kelm-Helgen, who runs the stadium authority, said she doesn't expect the financial review to change the overall project timeline.