A judge ordered the 84-year-old owner of Detroit's Ambassador Bridge to jail Thursday for failing to meet court-ordered deadlines on a construction project.
"It is ordered that Manuel "Matty" Moroun and Dan Stamper shall be imprisoned in the Wayne County Jail until the Detroit International Bridge Company complies with the Feb. 1, 2010, order of this court," Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards said.
On Thursday evening, the Court of Appeals denied Moroun's and Stamper's motion for release from jail pending an appeal. The court said the men cannot be released pending an appeal from a civil contempt ruling.
The DIBC released this statement in response to the Court of Appeals' denial:
We are disappointed the court denied the emergency motion for the release of Matty Moroun and Dan Stamper. We are confident the court will agree that the men have been unfairly jailed and that our appeal with be successful. Everyone should be accorded due process of law and have the opportunity to respond to clearly stated charges, and that was not the case with Judge Edwards decision.
In court, Moroun was flanked by attorneys who argued their client should not be put in jail because he had resigned and no longer had any authority. They also pointed out Moroun's ailing health.
The attorney's claim Moroun's not really the bridge's owner. They say a Moroun trust has a minority stake in a holding company that owns the bridge. But state officials say Moroun clearly is in charge. Stamper was the president of the company. An appeal has already been filed.
After an hour of arguments, a somber Moroun was removed from the courtroom and taken to the Wayne County Jail.
In response, the DIBC has released the following statement:
"Without a trial, without a jury, with no notice stating the reasons for them to appear, a judge viciously lashed out at Matty Moroun and Dan Stamper today and ordered a penalty outside the bounds of a civil case that was excessive, unwarranted and outrageous. This is the same judge that refused repeated requests for site visits to actually see construction on the Gateway Project. This entire legal process has clearly become a personal vendetta by the judge against these individuals.”
Detroit International Bridge Co. was declared in contempt of court in November for failing to finish work on the Gateway Project -- which links the U.S.-Canada span with two Detroit interstates.
"We take no pleasure in these folks going to jail," said Gregory Johnson of the Michigan Department of Transportation. "We take no pleasure in that. All we want, and all we've ever wanted, is for the contract to be fulfilled so we can complete our project and move forward."
The DIBC was also ordered to pay MDOT's legal fees.
The construction in the area of southwest Detroit has angered many residents who say their homes have been rattled by the loud noises and congestion of the traffic that has to be diverted.
The Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition released this statement:
"Today our community members are grateful to Judge Prentice Edwards for carrying justice. For so long residents’ voices had been silenced and impacts on our community ignored by the Bridge Company as it has maneuvered to keep the Gateway project from being completed. This is a win for the people. This is not about people going to jail, it’s about bringing a solution to get trucks off of our neighborhood streets, as the Gateway development was intended to do. Our whole community in Southwest Detroit has been suffering due to the delays in completing the Gateway and indecision on a new bridge. We’ve had to wait for years to see this border project completed, and while we’ve waited, asthma rates at Southwestern High School have gone up because trucks have been re-routed past the school, and our safety, quality of life, and property values have continued to decline. We can’t afford further delays and need a complete solution for our border that includes a swift decision on the New International Trade Crossing, which would directly connect our U.S. and Canadian freeways. We need a solution that would be good for truck drivers, Michigan businesses, and our community.
This struggle brings attention to the impacts that development projects like Gateway have on communities, and the need to protect people’s health and livelihoods, like any other community would expect."