A shining moment 

The billionaire miscalculates and justice is done

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.

Those of us who still recognize the rule of law and the authority of the United States and Canada have been fighting hard for them against the likes of Matty Moroun, for a long time. What happens next isn't clear, but is up to a panel of three appeals court judges. 

They could, and certainly should, send this old monopoly capitalist back to jail at least until a lot of work has been done at his expense to live up to his contract with the state, that is, MDOT.

Actually, Judge Edwards ought to appoint someone to do the work and then bill the charges, plus the court costs, to the Detroit International Bridge Co. But that's his call.

Incredibly, after this latest episode, and all Moroun's lies and antics, there are still some who think this creature ought to be allowed to keep complete control over what is this nation's most economically important border crossing.

This is the man who is perhaps our biggest slumlord, who owns and plays at sprucing up the ghastly ruin of the Michigan Central train station, and who has spent millions buying the Legislature and preventing the construction of another bridge that would create thousands of jobs and help make our economy competitive.

How thoroughly Moroun has corrupted our lawmakers can be seen in the remarks a particular specimen made when Matty was jailed. Mike Kowall is a pudgy state senator from White Lake Township who is running for Congress against Thaddeus McCotter.

Kowall, who has taken thousands in campaign "donations" from Moroun over the years, played the leading role last year in killing the governor's legislation to permit the new bridge to begin.

When he learned Moroun had been jailed, Kowall said, "I'd have thrown the director of MDOT in jail too, along with someone from the city." Nice that one of our elected representatives has such thuggish contempt for contracts, our court system and the rule of law.

Try not to forget that, if you live where he is running. 

More by Jack Lessenberry

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