Politics & Prejudices
A shining moment
The billionaire miscalculates and justice is done
Published: January 18, 2012
Whatever happens next, remember this: For years, an arrogant, squat little billionaire has bought our politicians, sneered with contempt at our laws and our courts, and held our economy hostage.
But on the morning of Friday the 13th, he woke up in the Wayne County Jail, dressed in a green jump suit. Yes, yes, I know, it was only for one night; the court of appeals let him out the next day.
And yes, Sheriff Benny Napoleon, petrified that this 84-year-old parasite might get sick, or god forbid, die on him, sadly allowed him to have dinner brought in from the Detroit Athletic Club.
Yet it happened. Our worst citizen went to jail, despite his wealth and connections. We all got to see the front-page picture of Manuel J. "Matty" Moroun's moon face, mouth gaping in astonishment and horror, as he was ordered off to jail.
And though he is out now, he could be going back to a cell soon.
For once, the bloated spider miscalculated. He ran into an honest judge, Wayne County Circuit Court's Prentis Edwards, whom he could not buy, intimidate or goad into making a silly mistake.
Two years ago, that judge ordered that Moroun's company live up to an agreement signed with MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation. Now, it is important to realize that Moroun doesn't believe that things like laws and contracts, rules and agreements apply to him. He believes he can do whatever he wants and get away with it.
That's what he always has done. The thing that ended him up in the slammer is a good case in point. Nearly eight years ago, MDOT and the Detroit International Bridge Co. signed a contract to build a development to ease congestion around the Ambassador Bridge, the so-called Gateway project. There was no mystery about what it was supposed to look like; drawings were publicly available.
But true to form, Matty ignored the agreement, once he calculated he could make more money breaking the rules. He promptly closed 23rd Street, which was supposed to stay open, and improperly installed some new gas pumps and a duty-free shop.
Traffic was re-routed by these, so drivers would stop and spend money, further enriching Moroun. Even worse, according to MDOT and the courts, the Gateway plan indicated that Moroun should have built an elevated two-lane ramp on his property for heavy trucks heading to the bridge. He never did, and instead trucks are still backed up in one lane on Fort Street. So much for easing traffic.
MDOT did what anybody who had been taken advantage of in such a deal should do: It sued. The case wound up in the courtroom of Edwards, a highly respected, no-nonsense judge. Two years ago, he ruled that MDOT was correct, and ordered Matty Moroun to rip out the illegal things he had built and rebuild Gateway according to the agreed-upon design. Usually when judges give you an order, it is a good idea to pay attention, unless you are eager to bunk with a cellmate named Lover Boy. But Moroun just sneered.
One year later, Judge Edwards hauled the Detroit International Bridge Co., and its president, a Moroun mouthpiece named Dan Stamper, (aptly nicknamed "Rubber" by investigative journalist Joel Thurtell) back into his courtroom.
Finding that no work had been done, Edwards threw Rubber in the slam for a few hours, until he pretended to be ordering the work.
They let Rubber Stamper out, and the work stopped. This year, the judge decided he had no choice, and last Thursday, tossed Moroun and Stamper into jail, and ordered them kept there until the bridge company did the work it had agreed to do in April 2004.
Moroun's son Matthew, who stands to inherit his father's empire, and his paid servants squalled like stuck pigs, which may be appropriate. When Matty first got a hint that he might be in real trouble, he went through contortions that would have been an insult to the intelligence of a thimble. He first claimed he didn't really own the bridge company, and therefore wasn't responsible.
When that didn't work, he announced in court that he and Stamper had just resigned from the board of directors, and so could no longer be responsible for cleaning up the mess they'd made out of Gateway.
That's an interesting defense tactic, and I wonder why the head Nazis didn't try that during the Nuremberg trials. In any event, it didn't work with Edwards, and they were soon in the slam.
Son Matthew then poured out his usual torrent of character assassination and lies, the funniest of which is that the Morouns had no idea what the judge wanted them to do with Gateway.
The next day, however, Moroun and his shadow were sprung, at least until a hearing, which will be held, appropriately enough, on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2. Patriotism always has been the last refuge of scoundrels, and Matty did not disappoint us stereotype-lovers. "I love my country," he said, apropos of absolutely nothing.
"There's not a country like ours in the world. We better fight for it," he said, before his lackeys drove him away. Had I been there, I would have asked what country he was talking about.
Best guess is he meant the one he believes he owns, Morounland, which includes at least Michigan and Ontario, since he doesn't recognize the authorities in either place.
> Email Jack Lessenberry