Bridge owner Moroun faces possible jail, receivership as judge finds him in contempt

BY JOHN GALLAGHER
DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun must appear before a Wayne County judge on Jan. 12 to face penalties that could include jail time after his company was found in contempt of court today.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards ruled this morning that Moroun’s Detroit International Bridge Co. was guilty of civil contempt for its failure to complete the long-delayed Gateway project at the bridge as Edwards ordered in February 2010.

The judge set a hearing for Dec. 1 to determine if a receiver should be appointed to take control of the project away from Moroun’s company, and set the Jan. 12 hearing to decide what sanctions he should impose to force completion of the Gateway project.

Dan Stamper, president of the bridge company, declined to comment after the hearing. Edwards ordered that Stamper appear along with Moroun at the Jan. 12 hearing. Edwards briefly jailed bridge company President Dan Stamper last January for failing to comply with his February 2010 order to rebuild the company’s portion of the project.

Edwards noted in his ruling that penalties for civil contempt could include financial fines to coerce the bridge company to comply, and jail time for the company’s leaders until the Gateway project is completed.

The judge ruled that the evidence was “clear and unequivocal” that Moroun’s company had tried to evade his Feb. 1, 2010, order to complete Gateway as ordered.

Gateway is a $230-million joint project between the Michigan Department of Transportation and Moroun’s DIBC to connect the bridge directly to I-75 and I-96 through a series of new roads and ramps.

Moroun’s bridge company built its portion of Gateway in a way that kept thousands of trucks on Fort and other local streets. Instead it built a lucrative duty-free shop and fuel pumps where one of the new Gateway roads was to have gone.

In February 2010, Edwards ruled against Moroun’s company and ordered the bridge company to rebuild, even if it meant ripping out some of the duty-free facilities.

Since then, MDOT has sought to prove before Edwards that the bridge company was doing little or nothing to comply with Edwards’ order. The bridge company contended it was doing all it could to comply and that any delays were due to changes ordered by MDOT.

In his ruling today, Edwards noted that MDOT and Moroun’s company had entered into the agreement to build Gateway in April 2004, with an anticipated completion date of no more than 48 months later. When the bridge company built its portion in the way it did rather than following the agreed design, MDOT sued in June 2009. Edwards ruled against Moroun’s company the following February.