State sues Moroun’s Ambassador Bridge company over mislabeled gasoline

By John Gallagher
Detroit Free Press Business Writer

The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development has sued the Ambassador Bridge duty-free company, claiming it has been selling mislabeled gasoline and letting too much fuel vapor escape into the air, according to court documents.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Ingham County Circuit Court in Lansing, said a company called Ammex, part of the business empire of businessman Manuel (Matty) Moroun, was selling gas labeled as 93 octane when it tested as low as 91.2.

In addition, tests of pumps at the duty-free gas station at the Ambassador Bridge revealed that more fuel vapor was escaping into the air than allowed under state regulations.

A spokesman for the Ambassador Bridge owners had no comment on the lawsuit.

The state first tested the Ammex fuel pumps in 2009 “in response to a consumer complaint alleging the sale of bad gas,” the lawsuit said.

Following subsequent tests, Ammex came into partial compliance by this September. But the company has not become fully compliant and has ignored the state’s overtures to settle the matter, said Jamie Clover Adams, director of the agriculture department.

“I’ll be real frank with you: Normally, it doesn’t come to this,” Adams said Wednesday of the lawsuit. “There are 1,950 or so stations in that area that complied with the law.”

Adams said the Ammex pumps are among those at a handful of stations in southeast Michigan that have failed to comply with state regulations after an initial violation was found.

The lawsuit comes amid a bitter electoral battle between state leaders and the Moroun family over Michigan’s effort to partner with Canada to build a publicly owned bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Adams said the lawsuit’s timing is not related to Moroun’s battle with Gov. Rick Snyder over the bridge or to the Moroun-financed Proposal 6, which is designed to block or delay any new bridge.

“This has nothing to do with the governor,” Adams said Wednesday.

The Moroun family has spent millions of dollars to bankroll Proposal 6, a ballot question that would amend the state constitution to require a statewide and local vote before the state could spend money on a new international bridge or tunnel.

Proposal 6 is widely viewed as the Morouns’ last-ditch effort to block the proposed New International Trade Crossing (NITC) project that would draw significant traffic and toll revenue away from their privately owned Ambassador Bridge.

The state brought the suit under the Motor Fuels Quality Act of 1984. It seeks unspecified civil fines on Ammex “for the knowing sale of gasoline that failed to meet the requirements” of the state’s fuel law.