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Matty Moroun, Detroit's Border Baron

Matty Moroun bought the only bridge out of Detroit. It's a perfect business. He'd like to keep it that way
Matty Moroun, Detroit's Border Baron
Photograph by Brian Widdis for Bloomberg Businessweek

On the morning of January 12, Matty Moroun, an 84-year-old billionaire, walked into the Wayne County courthouse in downtown Detroit for a hearing on sanctions for civil contempt. He was an hour late. The courtroom was full. Moroun took his place in the front row, next to one of his lawyers, looking frail, amiable, and slightly bemused.

A few miles from the courthouse is Moroun’s bridge, the only major border crossing in the country that’s privately owned, and the source of much of Moroun’s troubles. The Ambassador Bridge was built in 1929 by a New York financier and bought for $30 million by Moroun in 1979. Painted a striking blue, the four-lane, 7,490-foot-long steel span is suspended 152 feet above the Detroit River and connects the city to Windsor in Ontario, Canada. It’s the busiest commercial crossing in North America. Twenty-five percent of U.S.-Canada truck freight moves across the bridge, some $82 billion worth of goods every year. That’s more than the U.S. exports to Germany or Japan.