Asked by TPMmuckraker whether he and his colleagues were aware of Hilton's track record when it got involved with APF, Peterson replied that they were, but were willing to overlook it.
"He was an alcoholic, and everybody knows that," said Peterson of Hilton. "Did he do some not-the-best choices in his personal and professional life when he was not sober? Absolutely. He made some very unwise decisions."
But, argued Peterson, that shouldn't be held against him forever. "Hey, he's served his time," Peterson said. "Is the guy not entitled to try to do something with his life from here on out?"
Peterson also told TPMmuckraker that Hilton is not the CEO or founder of APF. He declined to say who is the CEO, or whether Hardin officials had met with that person. "I met with a lot of different people," Peterson said.
Peterson implied that safeguards were in place to ensure that, if AFP fails to deliver, the city can get out of the deal. But he declined to offer specifics.
"Let's say in two months we get no prisoners," he said. "Hardin's in the same boat we were in before."
But he appeared to think that unlikely. "Has [Hilton] conned us or deceived us?" he asked. "No. He's been pretty up front with us."
Peterson acknowledged that his decidedly forgiving attitude -- especially in regard to someone being put in charge of a prison, and perhaps being granted a near monopoly on force in the town -- was in part prompted by desperation. Since building the prison in 2006, Hardin has been vainly searching for a way to fill it -- even recently offering unsuccessfully to take detainees from Guantanamo. (Peterson called that initiative "a lark" that "certainly got Hardin, Montana put on the map.")
"What have we got to lose? We don't have any money we don't have any prisoners," said Peterson. "This is the best offer we've got on the table."
Of Hilton, he added: "He's a better shot than nothing."
Update: Read TPMmuckraker's full coverage of AFP: