With groundbreaking on a new Minnesota Vikings stadium only weeks away, final approval of key development agreements has been put on hold to allow the state to conduct a more extensive background investigation into the team’s owners.
The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public body overseeing the nearly $1 billion project, said Tuesday that it has retained Peter Carter of the Dorsey & Whitney law firm to lead a “due diligence” review of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and his family’s real estate business. Carter has tried cases involving racketeering and performed similar investigations for some of the nation’s largest firms.
This is actually pretty nuts: When it was time to vote on giving the Vikings $800 million in stadium subsidies, despite the fact that much of that was supposed to come from an electronic gambling game that nobody had any idea whether anyone would actually play, the legislature was fine and dandy with it. Now, when it turns out the guy they’re giving the money to swindled his partners out of $30 million by using bookkeeping practices that amounted to “organized-crime-type activities” … okay, I guess that “organized-crime-type” reference in the judge’s ruling was bound to attract some negative attention. But it’s still a little unusual to have a state legislature put an entire stadium deal on hold because they’re shocked, shocked to find that a pro sports team owner might engage in bookkeeping irregularities.
It’s still possible that this entire thing is just an exercise in butt-covering, and in a few weeks Carter will emerge to say: No worries, Wilf isn’t trying to steal $30 million from the state, he just wants the $800 million he already talked you into giving him, thanks. But given that the state has also hired a forensic accounting firm to investigate Wilf’s finances and past record, you have to think they’re at least a little bit serious about checking this guy out. Which you might think would have been a good idea before giving him $800 million, but hey, better at the last possible second than never.