Hardin, Montana, Puts Jail Deal With APPF On Ice

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October 6, 2009 5:08 a.m.

Spooked by a man who turned out to be a convicted felon and who appears to have repeatedly lied on his way to acquiring a lease for an empty jail in Hardin, MT, town leaders yesterday put the deal with American Private Police Force on hold.

Last week, the state attorney general launched a probe of the deal that was pushed through by a man calling himself “Captain” Michael Hilton.

The AP reports on the Hardin board meeting yesterday that put a stop to the whole project:

“We won’t move forward. I don’t think any of us want to be on the chopping block,” said Gary Arneson, president of Hardin’s Two Rivers Authority, which owns the jail. …

On Friday, a California judge ordered Hilton to appear in court Oct. 27 over an outstanding judgment in a fraud lawsuit.

In that case, Hilton lured investors to sink money into an assisted living complex in Southern California that was never built. …

Arneson said no further action would be taken until the authority hires an attorney to replace Becky Convery, the lawyer who helped forge the agreement with American Police Force.

A bank that is trustee on the bond taken out by Hardin to build the jail — long in default — never OKed the deal with APPF. Besides the jail lease, the deal would give APPF the right to run the town’s law enforcement operations.

Also yesterday, Greg Smith, the chief of the town’s economic development agency who had been put on paid leave without explanation since a few days after the initial deal was brokered last month, gave up his post. No explanation was offered for why Smith, who was said to have conducted a background check on Hilton, resigned.

And AP reports that town officials were told by Hilton that a man named Michael Cohen, of International Security Associates in Ohio, would be director of operations for the jail project. But Cohen told the AP that’s not true — he only had a cursory meeting with Hilton.

Hardin official Al Peterson told TPMmuckraker yesterday that the director of ops was “highly qualified” and had a “pretty nice” resume, but was currently in Afghanistan.

This isn’t the first time Hilton has claimed that people and companies with whom he’s only had superficial contact would be playing major roles at APPF.

So what’s next? Even though the deal was never consummated, APPF has had the keys to the jail since at least a week. In fact, APPF flack — and former Billings Gazette reporter — Becky Shay has been working out of the facility, she told us last week.

Peterson told TPMmuckraker before the board meeting yesterday: “I have no idea who gave [the keys] to them or what day.”

Late Update: Guess who was a no show for that board meeting? KULR in Billings:

APF Spokeswoman Becky Shay said she wasn’t aware Hilton told the board he would attend Monday’s meeting. “Apparently he said he would be here before I went to work for him,” Shay said.

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