What can we do with an arrogant sleazeball billionaire who believes that the rules don’t apply to him, violating a contract he signed with a government agency and repeatedly ignoring court orders?
When it is Manuel (Matty) Maroun, 84, whose Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) owns the Ambassador Bridge, a cell in the Wayne County Jail is where he belongs. A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals should send him there after a Feb. 2 hearing.
In 2004, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the DIBC signed a contract to build the $230 million Gateway Project, which was intended to provide direct access from the Ambassador Bridge to I-75 and I-96 for truck traffic, thereby reducing traffic congestion, air pollution and noise on local surface streets in southwest Detroit. The project, scheduled for completion in 2008, was to include an elevated ramp for trucks over 23rd Street.
But the insatiably greedy Maroun violated the contract by instead constructing a surface route for trucks in this area, along with lucrative fuel pumps and a duty-free shop, closing 23rd Street in the process. He also built a ramp and support piers for a proposed twin span of the bridge, which has been rejected by the Canadian government, and illegally fenced off part of Riverside Park which lay in the path of the proposed twin bridge, placing phony “homeland security” signs on the fence.
In 2009, MDOT sued the DIBC for violating the contract. In February 2010, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards ruled that the DIBC had violated the contract and ordered the project completed according to the agreement. The DIBC did nothing. In January 2011, Edwards found the DIBC in contempt of court for refusing to comply with his order. He had Maroun’s chief stooge, DIBC President Dan Stamper, briefly jailed for contempt, releasing him when the DIBC started some cosmetic work at the Gateway site. This work stopped after Stamper was released. Once again, the DIBC did nothing.
An even-tempered man with the patience of a saint, Edwards finally decided last Nov. 3 that he had had enough. He again found the DIBC in contempt of court, ordering Maroun and Stamper to appear before him on Jan. 12 to face the penalties. Both attempted to weasel out of it by dishonestly claiming to have resigned from the DIBC board of directors, thereby insulting Edwards’ intelligence. He didn’t buy it, of course, and ordered Maroun and Stamper jailed.
Maroun and Stamper had it better than the average prisoner during their brief jail stay, being placed in an isolation cell instead of among the general inmate population, and ordering a carry-out dinner from the posh Detroit Athletic Club instead of eating jail food. They appealed Edwards’ ruling, and were released by the Court of Appeals after a day in jail, with the Feb. 2 hearing the next step in the process.
At the Jan. 12 hearing, MDOT asked Edwards to appoint a receiver to complete the project, with the DIBC to be billed for its services. Edwards rejected this request, feeling that getting the receiver up to speed would cause further delays. But MDOT should ask him to reconsider, for Maroun and his DIBC have proven that they can’t be trusted. The receiver should complete the project as originally set forth in the contract, while removing the fuel pumps, duty-free shop, ramp and support piers. The illegal Riverside Park fence was previously torn down by southwest Detroit residents.
As for Maroun, he should go back to jail until the project is completed. He deserves to be held to the same standard of conduct as anyone else, and neither his wealth nor his advanced age entitles him to special treatment. This is supposed to be a country where there is equal justice under law, isn’t it?