By David Bailey
(Reuters) - A judge ordered an 84-year old billionaire to jail on Thursday after finding him in contempt for failing to complete a construction project at Detroit's Ambassador Bridge, the busiest crossing between the United States and Canada.
Manuel "Matty" Moroun, an owner of the Detroit International Bridge Co that controls the Ambassador Bridge, along with company president Dan Stamper were booked at Wayne County Jail. They will be held until they comply with a February 2010 court order to complete the project, or until no longer have the power to do so.
"It is clear from the records of this case that only stern actions by the court will coerce them to fulfill their obligations," Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards wrote in a six-page ruling.
Moroun's son, Matthew Moroun, a company vice president, said in a statement that the process had "clearly become a personal vendetta by the judge against these individuals."
"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," Matthew Moroun said.
The company said it is planning to appeal the judge's ruling.
Stamper was ordered jailed briefly for contempt once before in the case, after Edwards found Detroit International Bridge in contempt in January 2011. He was released after the company assured the court that work would resume immediately on the project.
The privately-owned Ambassador Bridge is the busiest crossing between the United States and Canada, providing a continuous flow of auto parts and completed vehicles each way from Detroit to Windsor, Canada.
Edwards said it was clear Moroun, Stamper and Matthew Moroun had the power to complete the connections as ordered and the maximum allowed fine of $7,500, which he imposed, would be inconsequential.
The project was intended to link the bridge with Interstate 75 and Interstate 96 in the United States directly, pulling the almost continuous flow of semitrailer trucks off surface streets.
Instead, the company has failed to correct variations from the plan and the other parts have not been completed.
"It is important that the Court impose a sanction that will ensure the completion of this project without further needless delays and inconvenience to the public," Edwards said.
A spokeswoman for the Wayne County Sheriff said Moroun and Stamper were in an area of the jail with access to medical care should they need it.
Moroun is in another lengthy dispute with Michigan state officials over plans to add an additional crossing. He wants to add one next to the Ambassador Bridge that would be privately owned, while the state of Michigan and Canada have backed a proposal to build a publicly-owned international bridge.
(Reporting By David Bailey; editing by Paul Thomasch)