Tom Parrella is an Arizona-based businessman who dabbles in a mix of real estate, high risk loans and paramilitary security operations. One of Parrella’s companies, Bulletproof Securities, is now at the center of a controversy over heavily armed, masked security guards who have upset some locals by patrolling the site of a proposed mine in northern Wisconsin.
After photos and videos of the semiautomatic rifle-toting guards at a drilling site in Iron County emerged on the websites of anti-mining activists, Bulletproof Securities was linked to the masked men through insignias on their hats and the license plate on one of their armored vehicles. Bulletproof Securities was founded in 2002. Documents filed with the State of Arizona describe Bulletproof Securities as a “private military contractor” and identify Parrella as both president and CEO of the company.
Bulletproof Securities isn’t Parrella’s only business. Parrella, who has described himself as a former police officer, is also linked to at least five other businesses by his name, direct phone number, and multiple addresses. Parrella’s other ventures include a real estate company, DPR Realty LLC, the DPR School of Real Estate, a company called DPR Financial Solutions LLC, and Battle Group LLC. Cambios Y Servicios, Inc., a payday loan business in Chandler, Ariz., lists Parrella’s cell phone as its phone number.
According to an interview with Arizona’s East Valley Tribune published in 2007, Parrella started Bulletproof Securities with money made from his real estate business, which is based at the same address as the security firm. He also said he was inspired to start Bulletproof Securities as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. In addition to “site security,” Bulletproof Securities claims on its website to offer “executive” security details, “firearms training,” “armored vehicle services,” and a “border security force,” among other services. Parrella did not respond to requests for comment on this story Tuesday.
Bob Seitz, a spokesman for mine owner Gogebic Taconite, confirmed to TPM that the company does have armed security at the mine site but would not say whether Bulletproof Securities was hired to provide security.
“I’m not discussing the business relationships that we have with our security,” said Seitz. “The other side, the violent protesters, they don’t tell us their plans, so I don’t tell them about our business relationships.”
Seitz said the security was a response to protesters that have “attacked” equipment and staff at the site. Activists have protested the mine due to concerns about its “environmental, health, social, and economic” impact. Last month, a woman was arrested after what was described in a local news report as a “raid” on a Gogebic Taconite mining site that reportedly involved 15 people who threatened workers and damaged equipment.
“It’s been ongoing, they have been camping on our private land,” Seitz said of the protesters. “They come down regularly in the middle of the night, two or three in the morning, and try to get into the camp and security has to turn them back.”
Seitz said Gogebic Taconite hired security as part of its “responsibility to create a safe workplace” for its staff. He also said the company was concerned about the safety of the protesters who had been “endangering themselves” by “beating on high pressure hydraulic levers.”
On Monday, a pair of local lawmakers, state Sen. Bob Jauch and state Rep. Janet Bewley, sent a letter to Gogebic Taconite asking it to “immediately remove the heavily armed masked commando security forces currently hired to protect your company’s property.” Jauch told TPM he doesn’t object to the company having armed security, but the semiautomatic rifles, heavy armor, and masks used by the guards at the mining site meant they were “not armed security” and were instead a “mercenary anti-terrorist force.”
“I don’t have a problem with an armed security guard, most security guards are armed. I don’t want them to be armed for war,” Jauch said.
In the letter to Gogebic Taconite, Jauch and Bewley said the armed guards would only serve to “intimidate local citizens” and argued a “hand gun could be just as effective as an assault weapon.” The politicians also suggested the company’s goals would be better served by using off-duty law enforcement who would actually have the power to make arrests rather than a private security force.
“We weren’t asking them to completely withdraw security forces. We’ve asked them to withdraw their mercenaries, who have no place in northern Wisconsin, and replace them with a security force that is very similar with the Wisconsin security force,” said Jauch.
Jauch also said the Iron County sheriff informed him the guards at the mining site were indeed from Bulletproof Securities.
“I’ve talked to the sheriff,” Jauch said. “He told me that’s who it was. … They were told that they were up there.”
Iron County Sheriff Tony Furyk did not immediatley respond to a request for comment from TPM.
Seitz said the decision to use semiautomatic weapons was made by the company that provided the guards and not Gogebic Taconite.
“The level that they have for personal defense is really up to the professionals, we’re not experts on that,” said Seitz of the guards’ weaponry.
Seitz also disputed that Gogebic Taconite could have used off-duty local law enforcement for its security needs.
“As I’m sure Senator Jauch is aware, this is not a heavily populated area. There are not large police forces that can be tapped,” Seitz said. “We have used off duty sheriff’s deputies also, and we reimburse the county for overtime costs, and we’ve gone that route, but, you know, Iron County doesn’t have very many deputies, so there’s a limit to how much overtime you can use.”
In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Seitz also disputed the notion the guards would intimidate locals.
“None of those (guards) was visible,” he said. “They have been monitoring people on our lands.”
However, that under-the-radar approach would seem to be at odds with Parrella’s security philosophy. In a local news interview taped last year, Parrella said the heavy weaponry used by the company was a deliberate deterrent to potential adversaries.
“Our goal is to go in extremely high profile,” Parrella said.
Nevertheless, in spite of the uproar, Seitz said Gogebic Taconite has no plans to change its security procedures at the mining site.
“Senator Jauch’s letter will change nothing in our plans,” he said.