Wilf Brothers Ordered to Pay Over $84 million in Fraud, Racketeering Case
“Organized-Crime-Type Activities” Seen in Board Member’s Actions
The judge of Jarwick v. Wilf,a 2013 lawsuit filed in New Jersey involving a Wilf-family owned building project, found that Mark, Zygmunt, and Leonard Wilf defrauded their business partners in a 1980s real estate deal.
Last month, Judge Deane M. Wilson ordered the family to pay $84,529,624 to plaintiffs Ada Reichmann and Josef Halpern for compensatory damages, prejudgment interest, racketeering damages and punitive damages.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="502"] Minnesota Vikings co-owner Zygmunt Wilf was presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Yeshiva University. YU President Richard M. Joel and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Henry Kressel bestowed the honor at YU’s 79th Commencement ceremony on May 26, 2010, at Madison Square Garden.[/caption]
“The Wilfs didn’t just take a little extra money,” Judge Wilson rebuked the brothers at the conclusion of the 207-day trial on August 5, “They robbed their partners. They took as much money as was there.”
Judge Wilson expressed further outrage at the Wilf brothers’ conduct, “In this particular case, the bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated by the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself…It was grossly willful. And it was done repeatedly.”
The Wilf family is a major, longtime supporter of Yeshiva University, whose uptown campus bears the family’s name. Zygmunt (Zgyi) Wilf serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of Yeshiva University. Zygi, along with his younger brother Mark and cousin Leonard, serves as the principal owner of the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings.
Reichmann and her brother Josef Halpern sued the Wilf family for cheating them out of millions of dollars in revenue from Rachel Gardens, a 764-unit apartment facility in Montville, New Jersey. Judge Wilson found that the Wilfs employed “organized-crime-type activities” in their bookkeeping, deliberately swindling their partners out of their share of the building’s real estate profits.
Although the statute of limitations bars potential criminal charges, Zygmunt will pay 60 percent of the total award, while Mark and Leonard will each pay for 20 percent of the awarded damages. The $84 million dollar total includes $33 million in compensatory and punitive damages, $18 million in interest to Reichmann, $23 million in compensatory and punitive damages to Halpern, and $9 million in interest. Attorney’s fees and expenses will likely bring the total cost to $100 million.
Punitive damages in this case were particularly high given the outstanding level of fraud. The brothers will have two to three years to pay the fines. However, Alan M. Lebensfeld, the Wilfs’ attorney, said he planned to appeal the decision. The family won’t be mandated to pay Reichmann and Halpern until the appeals process concludes.
Earlier this month, St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that an arbitrator decided the Wilfs should pay the full court costs, which total over $15 million. “Plaintiffs prevailed on virtually every issue at trial, obtained an overwhelmingly favorable result, and should be awarded the vast majority of the attorneys’ fees and costs that they seek,” Orlofsky wrote in a 132-page report. Judge Wilson will hear arguments for Orlofsky’s report in early December.
The impending closure of the case—and the high likelihood that damages will be awarded in full—has caused concerns in Minnesota, where the Wilfs will break ground on a one billion dollar stadium in Minneapolis later this month. Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press said that many doubted the Wilfs’ ability to pay their share of the new stadium. Two years ago, the Wilf family contributed only $180 million to the stadium project. However, protracted discussions with legislators now have the brothers paying over $500 million.
“I think the important thing for everyone here is it doesn’t affect, one iota, our commitment and moving on to getting the stadium done and opened in the fall of 2016,” Mark Wilf told the Minnesota Star Tribune last month.
The Wilf family’s commitment to Yeshiva University, now strained under multiple financial burdens, may be seriously affected.