Matty Moroun’s Last Stand

There were no reports of dancing in the streets of Detroit or Windsor, Ontario. or the far-flung reaches of Michigan and Ohio, but there were many people who went to bed last week with the comforting thought that Matty Moroun finally got what was coming to him.

A Wayne County judge Thursday morning ordered Manuel “Matty” Moroun, 84, and his lieutenant Dan Stamper to jail. They’ll stay there until they can show physical proof that they are carrying out the terms specified in a contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation to build new approaches to the Ambassador Bridge.

Moroun owns the bridge. He also controls a network of trucking companies that have made him a billionaire. His dispute with MDOT goes back three or four years and has been well documented. Just Google his name and you’ll be flooded. In short, he acted on the idea that he could single-handedly change the contract to his benefit. Judge Prentis Edwards told Moroun several times that he didn’t have the right. Jail time ultimately was the only way the judge could make his point crystal clear.

The MDOT skirmish has become the prolog for an even bigger battle: a new $5.3 billion bridge across the Detroit River. The Ambassador is almost as old as its owner. It carries more commercial traffic than any other crossing on the Canadian border. It is also the largest privately owned international crossing in the world.

His enemies believe Moroun follows the Golden Rule: he who has the gold rules. He proposed building a second private bridge adjacent to the Ambassador. Most public and private interests favor a publicly owned span a mile or so downstream. Moroun has spent thousands of dollars in political contributions, state-wide advertising and legal fees to block the threat of competition.

Moroun’s supporters – he has a few — hold him up as a champion of free enterprise. But corporations for more than a century have understood that free enterprise has to be tempered by good corporate citizenship. Moroun is the last of the 19th Century capitalists — business is a blood sport and the winner takes all. Period.

The Ambassador Bridge has been Moroun’s lucrative monopoly for 30 years. But free enterprise thrives on competition. The irony is that his stubborn hold on the old ways ultimately may be his undoing.
The state’s plan is to partner up with private equity to build its share of the new international bridge. Moroun’s millions could buy a piece of the action, but now he’s burned his bridges behind him.

Contact R.G. Edmonson at bedmonson@joc.com. Follow him on Twitter @BobinWash.

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