Legal Trust Now Presumed To Own Buffalo Bills

ORCHARD PARK, NY – NYS Lt. Governor Robert Duffy is confident that despite the death Tuesday of Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson, the team's future is secure in Western NY

"I think the lease is pretty iron clad," Duffy told WGRZ following the announcement of Wilson's passing.

Duffy said that during the negotiations, in which he was involved, it became clear that upon Wilson's death the NFL franchise would be placed into a trust, which could operate the team until it is eventually sold.

Duffy also says he understands the apprehension of some in Western New York, given that the trustees would generally have a fiduciary responsibility to get the most they could for the team…from whoever might pay it.

"But here's the key," said Duffy. "The NFL was involved in our negotiation as well, and we signed an agreement that keeps the Bills in their current location for seven years."

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz added that anyone trying to move the team would first have to win a court battle to do so, because the lease has a non-relocation clause, which the county would surely move to impose.

Duffy noted as well that, even if a buyer seeking to move the team were to prevail before a judge in their effort to escape from the non-relocation clause, there would be a $400 million penalty imposed on any purchaser who might try to move it elsewhere during the seven-year time frame.

As for the trust, Joseph Curatolo with Georgetown Capitol Group, who authored "Who Gets What, A Guide to Estate Planning", notes that trusts by their very nature can be secretive.

"Unlike wills, trusts don't go through probate…it's not public information. Right now, no one other than the most inner circle of Ralph Wilson knows what's going to happen in the trust," he said. "More than likely, the trustees are going to sell the Buffalo Bills."

However, according to Curatolo the trust could also have provisions regarding to whom the team could be sold.

"A trust could say anything…if the trust language says that Ralph Wilson wants it to provide a fair chance for the Bills to stay in Buffalo, and provides for that as an overriding theme, they (the trustees) may take a second price, or a lower price, if his (Wilson's) objective was subliminally to keep the team in Buffalo."

However, it is also important to remember, the Bills, who ever owns them, are members of the NFL.

"The league, under its own bylaws, could come back and reject the sale, of course," Curatolo said.

Curatolo also said that despite what you may have read, the team's value may not be what has been widely speculated by a variety of publications.

Those values were placed on the team assuming Wilson tried to sell it when he was alive.

But now that he's gone, there are more than market forces at play

"Under federal estate tax laws, the IRS will determine the value of the team...not Forbes Magazine or Sports Illustrated," he said.

Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Terry Belke.

Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2


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