Most people in Michigan know Matty Moroun as the famous and highly controversial owner of the Ambassador Bridge.
For years, the media has covered his ongoing efforts to stop a second, independently owned bridge, a battle he’s apparently lost.
But the Moroun family has another virtual monopoly, which gives them essentially total control over the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority, a situation that has gone on for 10 years.
Back in 2005, Kwame Kilpatrick’s administration gave Moroun a deal that seems too outrageous to believe.
In return for an emergency loan of a little over $2 million, Moroun was given one of the biggest sweetheart deals of all time.
They call it a “master concession agreement,” and under its terms, as freelance investigative reporter Joel Thurtell told me, it isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that Matty Moroun essentially owns the Port Authority.
Without any doubt, he controls it.
Moroun got huge tax exemptions, and control of the operations and revenues of the Port Authority for at least 25 years, a deal that can be renewed for up to a century.
During that time, the Port Authority itself, meaning the public, gets less than 3% of gross revenues.
According to Thurtell, who thoroughly researched the deal in an article he published almost four years ago, the Port Authority can’t even dispose of public property it owns without Moroun’s permission.
The city also apparently agreed in writing that it would give up any right to sue Moroun for, quote, “any claim for breach of fiduciary duty or other cause of action.”
If that wasn’t more than bad enough, it set terms for repaying the loan Moroun gave to the city that the worst loan shark could only envy. It appears to be structured to ensure that the city can never pay it back.
The interest rate fluctuates, but apparently never dips below 6%.
Over the last 10 years, poor, cash-strapped, bankrupt Detroit has paid back $1.3 million. But the loan balance has actually grown, to $2.2 million.
John Loftus, executive director of the Port, told the Detroit Free Press:
“The way this thing is structured, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to pay off this debt.”
Gregg Ward is highly familiar with port operations. He is vice-president of the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry Company, which ferries vehicles with hazardous materials across the river.
He told me, “in the Moroun portfolio of corrupt deals, the port contract is one of the most blatant.”
These facts have been in the public domain for years, but nobody in the press, except for the persistent Thurtell, has paid much attention.
Finally, late last week, the Port Authority’s board finally asked Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to issue an opinion on the “legality and validity” of the controversial contract the city signed with Moroun a decade ago.
But here’s something to consider.
The Moroun family has been a heavy contributor to Schuette’s past election campaigns, according to Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
They’ve given him at least $21,000 since he began running for attorney general, and may have given more to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which spent more than a million dollars on Schuette’s reelection last year.
If that doesn’t make you stop and think, it should.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.