Trading business pinstripes for another kind

First things first: The photo making the rounds of social media, the one with Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun sitting gape-mouthed, eyes upturned, as though someone has just gut-punched him, is not the moment Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards dropped the bomb. Video clearly shows that when Edwards told Moroun that he and his right-hand man, Dan Stamper, were headed for the hoosegow for contempt of court, the 84-year-old billionaire kept his composure.

But the picture was pretty good, and that's the one everybody passed around.

The case against Moroun has been made so many times I scarcely need to make it again. I only wonder why a man with so much money and power over his image seems so bound and determined to be depicted in the public as a cross between Monopoly's Mr. Moneybags and Snidely Whiplash. Many wealthy people as close to the grave as Moroun are giving money away with a shovel, ensuring their name will live on carved in stone above museums, hospital wings and university business schools.

Moroun, though, continues to grub after every nickel, and when he does look to his image, hires a sleaze like Dick Morris, whose ham-fisted campaign on behalf of Moroun's interests included "eviction notices" plastered on homes in Detroit's Delray neighborhood. That boneheaded move, which set off a clamor in the working-class district adjacent to where the proposed New International Trade Crossing would be built, was filtered through the group Americans for Prosperity (to distinguish it from Americans for Penury, perhaps), giving Moroun's company deniability, but you don't have to be a mathematician to add two plus two.

This current dispute with the court involves how Moroun ignored the Michigan Department of Transportation plan for the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project, constructed over the last few years. He refused to elevate a ramp as per the plan, instead running trucks past his company's gas pumps and duty-free shop. One of the Detroit newspapers described this particular part of Moroun's income stream as "very lucrative." I guess.

As I write this, Moroun is still in the Wayne County Jail, although he'll almost certainly be released soon. He's said to have enjoyed a meal of chicken-fried steak in a protected cell that he's sharing with Stamper. They have their own bathroom, but there's no door on it.

Moroun only rarely makes statements to the media, so it's unlikely he'll have anything to say upon his release. I'm hoping he gets a commemorative tattoo. It's more likely, as a friend notes, that he'll emerge with an idea for new business opportunities in privatized prisons.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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John Q. Public
Mon, 01/16/2012 - 6:03pm
Not everybody cares what others think of them. Iconoclasm is totally underrated.
Tue, 01/17/2012 - 8:13pm
Would Mr. Maroun built his for-profit prisons under his new second bridge? Maybe have the prisoners actually build the structure? Snyder needs to take the bold move and strike a deal with the Canadians, absent the crackpot legislature, to build the new bridge. Jobs, jobs, JOBS!