Did Hardin Official Benefit Personally From APPF Deal?

October 6, 2009 9:38 am

How did American Private Police Force convince the town of Hardin to put it in charge of a 464-bed prison, despite having essentially no proven track record with such projects? The complete answer isn’t yet clear. But could the mysterious private contractor have dangled a job for the wife of a top city official to seal the deal?

Let’s lay out the evidence…Greg Smith, the one-time director of the Two Rivers Authority (TRA), Hardin’s economic development agency, played a major role in putting together the APPF agreement — including traveling to California to meet with company officials, and conducting a background check on APPF official Michael Hilton, Hardin officials have said. Smith strongly touted the deal in public comments last month.

But three days after it was announced, Smith was placed on paid administrative leave. The TRA has never publicly explained why.

A few weeks later, as the story was beginning to get national attention, Hilton told the AP that he had asked Smith’s wife, Kerri to call him about a possible job with APPF if she fell short in her bid to be Hardin’s mayor. It’s unclear when Hilton reached out to Kerri Smith, if indeed he did.

Kerri Smith, like her husband, has been a staunch supporter of the controversial deal.
“It probably is [mysterious] to those that don’t know what’s going on,” she told a local TV station around the same time. But she added a piece of advice for worried Hardin residents: “Don’t panic, just go with the flow and everything will be fine.”

Last week, the state attorney general sent letters to APPF and the TRA asking for more information about the deal. One request from AG Steve Bullock was for documents relating to “[a]ll direct or indirect interests Authority board members or their immediate families have in American Police Force (including without limitation its officers, affiliates, or agents).” Bullock’s office told TPMmuckraker last night that the document speaks for itself.

Then yesterday, at a public meeting about the deal held by the TRA, an audience member asked whether Greg Smith had been suspended because Kerri Smith had used TRA funds to fly to California with her husband to meet with Hilton. In response, TRA director Gary Arneson acknowledged that Kerri Smith had been on the trip, but said her ticket was paid for by her husband. Arneson said the trip itself had nothing to do with Greg Smith’s suspension.

But at that same meeting, at which it was announced that Hardin was putting the deal on hold, amid questions about the veracity of many of APPF’s claims, Smith formally resigned from the TRA board.

The Smiths’ phone number is not publicly listed. Becky Shay of APPF declined to comment to TPMmuckraker on whether a job offer had been made by APPF to Kerri Smith. Al Peterson of the TRA told TPMmuckraker he couldn’t comment on the reasons for Greg Smith’s suspension and subsequent resignation. Peterson also said he was unable to get a message to Smith, adding that he’d been trying to contact him himself.

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