Update 10: Hilton Wrote a Check to Hardin Bed and Breakfast That Bounced
In announcing the suspension of a state investigation into American Police Force on Tuesday, state Attorney General Steve Bullock said he was “unaware of any Montanans who have been harmed financially by this company.”
Meet Marcianna Smith.
She is the owner of the Kendrick House Inn at 206 N. Custer Ave. in Hardin, a bed-and-breakfast where Michael Hilton and several other people associated with American Police Force stayed in late September.
Smith said a check Hilton wrote to her for “about $1,000” has bounced. It came back with “account frozen” stamped on it, she said Tuesday. In addition to staying at the B&B, Hilton invited a lot of people to breakfast and put the bill on his tab.
Update 9: 10/10/2009 01:00GMT: Company Run by Ex-Con Drops Montana Jail Plan
The End, for now…
Company run by ex-con drops Montana jail plan
By MATTHEW BROWN (AP)
BILLINGS, Mont. — An obscure California company run by an ex-convict with a history of fraud has dropped its effort to take over a beleaguered Montana jail, days after state officials launched an investigation.
The project has been dogged by a series of damaging revelations about the company, American Police Force, ever since officials in the rural town of Hardin announced with great fanfare last month that they had secured a $2.6 million deal to fill the jail.
An Associated Press investigation of American Police Force, including the criminal background of its founder, cast serious doubts about the legitimacy of the company, and its jail management proposal quickly spiraled toward its death.
American Police Force had faced a Monday deadline from the Montana attorney general’s office to reveal its financial backers. A spokesman for Attorney General Steve Bullock said the demand for information was still pending.
Becky Shay, spokeswoman for the company, said Friday the deal with Hardin had “gone sour” after media revelations about the founder, Michael Hilton. But she insisted the company’s intentions had been honest.
“Two Rivers deserves a considerably less-controversial partner,” she said of Hardin’s economic development agency, which owns the 464-bed jail. “There was never any fraudulent intention.”
The jail has been vacant since its completion two years ago. After looking for prisoners from Vermont to Alaska, officials were so desperate to fill it with inmates that they floated the idea that it could hold terrorists from Guantanamo Bay.
A short time later, American Police Force contacted Hardin about taking over its jail. The company made sensational claims on its Web site about its role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how it could mobilize special operations forces anywhere in the world on 72-hours notice.
Officials in Hardin were so impressed with the company’s credentials that they rushed into a contract in September without thoroughly investigating Hilton’s background.
The AP’s inquiry found that Hilton has gone by at least 17 aliases and has a history of fraud and theft dating back to at least 1988. He spent three years in prison in California and has $1.1 million in outstanding civil judgments against him.
Hilton later acknowledged offering a job to the wife of the executive director of Two Rivers Authority. That official, Greg Smith, resigned Monday. His wife, Kerri Smith, is a finalist in Hardin’s upcoming mayoral election. They have not returned requests for comment.
The September contract for the $27 million jail was never ratified.
It was signed by Hilton, Smith and Al Peterson, a board member of the quasi-public authority and Hardin’s school superintendent.
Peterson said Friday he does not regret the decision.
“I can’t say it was a mistake,” he said. “We make the best decision we can based on the information we have on hand. I don’t think we did anything we couldn’t or wouldn’t do in the future.”
Peterson acknowledged Hilton paid for several meals when city representatives — including Greg and Kerri Smith — traveled to California to negotiate the deal last month. But in a letter released Friday, Peterson and authority president Gary Arneson stated no other compensation was received.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer upbraided Hardin officials for first striking a deal with what he called “con men” and then defending American Police Force after Hilton’s history emerged.
“They became part of the conspiracy. They became apologists,” he said of Peterson and others involved in the deal.
Schweitzer added that Hardin residents “need some people to represent them that have some business skills, that are honest and have integrity.”
It is unknown who invested money in American Police Force or how much Hilton personally put into the effort. He previously described his investors as “friends and family” and companies with which he was associated.
He had said he planned to sink $17 million into a law enforcement and military training center next to the jail.
Hilton had also talked of his company taking over local law enforcement services in Hardin for $250,000 a year. That idea never got very far, even though he brought three Mercedes SUVs marked with made-up “Hardin Police Department” logos to his first public appearance in town.
He said he would donate the vehicles to the city but never did.
Those involved in Hilton’s past schemes had doubts all along. They included Richard Earnhart, a California contractor who invested more than $100,000 in an assisted living center that was promoted by Hilton in the late 1990s but never built.
As part of that scheme, Earnhart said he and several others involved were also given a Mercedes by Hilton. He said his vehicle was repossessed days after he got it.
A judge last week ordered Hilton to appear in California Superior Court in Los Angeles on Oct. 27, over a $340,000 outstanding judgment he owes in Earnhart’s case.
“He had me under his spell,” Earnhart said of Hilton in a recent interview. “That prison (the Hardin jail) — he should be in it.”
Update 8: 10/5/2009 01:50GMT: It’s “American Private Police Force” Now, New Logo
Changes to APF Website, Contract
By Sarah Gravlee
Story Published: Oct 4, 2009 at 7:11 PM MDT
Story Updated: Oct 4, 2009 at 7:11 PM MDT
BILLINGS – On Sunday morning, there were some visible changes to California-based security company American Police Force’s website. What previously read “American Police Force” now uses the company’s formal name “American Private Police Force.”
Another notable change is the company’s crest. The previous crest was a near copy of the Serbian Coat of Arms. On Friday, KULR-8 news first reported the Serbian government was looking into possible legal action against APF for using the crest.
The group’s leader, Capt. Michael Hilton said the crest was a family emblem and he used it to honor his grandfather. APF Spokeswoman Becky Shay said she is not aware of any lawsuit from the consulate and Hilton made the change as, “the quickest thing he could to diffuse tension” with the old logo. She would not elaborate on exactly what those tensions were.
Along with changes to the company’s image come changes to the potential contract with Hardin’s economic development group Two Rivers Authority. Spokesman Al Peterson said board members will meet Monday afternoon to discuss the contract, which was recently looked over by an independent tax expert. Peterson said some of the language has been changed to ensure the bond, held by U.S. Bank, remains tax exempt.
If TRA board members approve the contract, it will still need to be approved by APF and U.S. Bank. Peterson added that the bond is a revenue bond; meaning residents of Hardin will never be responsible for paying it back. It can only be paid for by income from the Hardin Jail itself.
Monday’s meeting will be open to the public, but it is up to the group’s president to determine if there will be a public comment period. The meeting will start at 3:00 p.m. It is held at Hardin’s City Hall. Shay said if TRA approves the contract, APF will move quickly to sign off as well.
Update 7: 10/3/2009 03:00GMT: American Police Force Scam Unraveling Fast
Mont. jail project begins to unravel; lawyer quits
By MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press Writer
Posted: 10/02/2009 11:48:19 AM PDT
Updated: 10/02/2009 04:11:28 PM PDT
BILLINGS, Mont.—A California company’s bid to take over an empty jail in rural Montana appears to be unraveling, with an attorney involved in the project cutting ties Friday and a second company, once named as a subcontractor, denying any involvement.
Those moves followed revelations earlier in the week that Michael Hilton—the lead figure of the company, American Police Force—is a convicted felon with a history of fraud and failed business dealings in California.
“We met with him and he asked us if we can support him,” said Edward Angelino, chief executive of Allied Defense Systems, an Irvine, Calif.-based defense contractor. “We checked his background, we checked his company. He’s not an adequate person to do business with.”
American Police Force reached a deal last month with officials in Hardin to operate the city’s jail. The facility has never held an inmate since its 2007 completion.
Hilton pledged to open the jail by early next year and bring more than 200 new jobs to the struggling community, located in southeastern Montana on the border of the Crow Indian Reservation.
Hilton also said he would build a $17 million military training center in the city.
Citing concerns over the legitimacy of American Police Force, the Montana attorney general’s office on Thursday launched an investigation into the company. That included a demand for documents supporting Hilton’s claim that he’s backed by a major security corporation
wishing to remain anonymous.
American Police Force spokeswoman Becky Shay insisted Friday that the jail takeover remained on track. She said a job fair for prospective employees would still be held during the week of Oct. 12.
Hilton returned to California earlier this week after spending several days in Hardin. He intends to return for the job fair, Shay said.
City economic development officials and the company have agreed on the jail contract, but it hasn’t been ratified by US Bank. The bank has a stake as trustee for $27 million in construction bonds used to pay for the 464-bed facility.
No money has changed hands between Hardin and American Police Force. Hardin Mayor Ron Adams said Friday that despite his reservations about the project, he would still like to see it go forward so the jail can be filled.
Rumors continued to circulate in Hardin and on the Internet that American Police Force was backed by an unknown government agency with plans to use the jail as a detention or training center for foreign combatants.
Those rumors have been fueled by Hardin’s earlier efforts to bring in terrorism detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Friday dismissed the notion of any secretive government scheme.
“I think a low-level card shark is not going to rise to the level to get some kind of government defense contract,” the governor said.
Hilton had claimed Allied Defense Systems would provide the uniforms for guards at the jail. On Sept. 30, an attorney for the Irvine company sent a letter to Hilton threatening a lawsuit over the use of the company’s name.
Meanwhile, Maziar Mafi, a lawyer from Santa Ana, Calif., who served as the legal affairs director for American Police Force, said he wanted to see the project begin to move forward before he could continue his involvement.
“For the time, I’m pulling out,” Mafi said. “I need to see more concrete action before I can be involved.”
Shay said she was unaware of the move by Allied Defense Systems and had not spoken with Mafi directly.
Mafi’s involvement began last month—about the same time Hilton reached a contract agreement with Greg Smith of Hardin’s Two Rivers Authority, which owns the jail.
Smith has since been placed on paid leave from the quasi-public agency. And now, with Mafi’s departure, a jail critic said the project appeared doomed to failure.
“He sees the ship is going down,” said Alex Friedmann with the Private Corrections Institute, a group that has long been critical of Hardin for building a jail that would be privately run.
Hilton, who claims an extensive military background and uses the title “captain,” initially described Mafi as a “major” in American Police Force. He later said Mafi was the company’s president—although Mafi denied the role and said he had no military or security background.
Mafi guaranteed the Sept. 10 purchase of two Mercedes SUVs by Hilton as part of his plans for the jail. They were among three Mercedes that Hilton brought to Montana last week, saying he intended to turn over to Hardin for use by law enforcement.
A financing payment on at least one of the vehicles is now overdue.
Only one Mercedes remains in Montana. It’s being driven by company spokeswoman Shay, who said Friday that she intends to register it soon.
Shay quit her job with the Billings Gazette to work for Hilton. She said Friday that she remained comfortable with that decision, and that Hilton told her before she was hired about his criminal record and several civil judgments against him totaling more than $1.1 million.
Those judgments remain outstanding.
“A lot of people that know me, know about me have asked me if I’ve been duped,” Shay said. “No.”
Update 6: 10/2/2009 03:10GMT: Private Corrections Institute Fact Sheet on American Police Force
For more, see: Private Corrections Institute.
Prison Legal News and the Private Corrections Institute have been closely following the situation in Hardin, Montana related to the Two Rivers Prison and a recent proposal by the “American Private Police Force Organization” to operate the facility and build a law enforcement training center in Hardin. Our research on this issue is summarized below, and was first shared with the Associated Press on Sept. 30, 2009.
Update 5: 10/2/2009 01:35GMT: Montana AG Launches Probe of Jail Deal
By MATTHEW BROWN (AP)
BILLINGS, Mont. — Montana’s attorney general launched an investigation Thursday into a California company that wants to take over an empty jail in the rural city of Hardin, following revelations that the company’s lead figure is a convicted felon with a history of fraud.
Michael Hilton, who formed Santa Ana, Calif.-based American Police Force in March, came to Hardin last month promising to fill the city’s never-used jail and build a large military and law enforcement training center.
Hilton has a decades-long track record of fraudulent activities and spent several years in a California prison on grand theft charges. A native of Montenegro, he uses at least 17 aliases.
Citing “significant concerns” about the city’s dealings with American Police Force, Attorney General Steve Bullock asked Hardin economic development officials to produce by Oct. 12 all documents related to their dealings with the company.
His office made a similar demand of American Police Force, including information that would back up Hilton’s claims of multiple defense contracts with the U.S government and other agencies.
The launch of the investigation came as some Hardin officials began backing away from American Police Force. The city’s Two Rivers Authority reached a 10-year deal on the jail with the company last month.
But that was never ratified by US Bank, the trustee on the construction bonds used to pay for the 464-bed facility.
Attorney Becky Convery, who helped negotiate the deal, said Hilton overstepped his bounds when he showed up in Hardin last week with three Mercedes SUVs marked with fictitious “Hardin Police Department” logos.
He pledged to donate the SUVs to the city and also offered to provide law enforcement for Hardin for $250,000 a year. That prospect has stirred suspicion among critics that rural Hardin, population 3,500, could be transformed into a privately run police state.
Convery said Two Rivers director Greg Smith had a tentative deal with Hilton’s company to provide law enforcement service, but she said it was never finalized and she was uncertain whether it would be legal.
“We are not at all pleased with American Police masquerading as if they were the police for the city of Hardin,” she said.
Yet other Hardin officials remained loyal to American Police Force despite knowing little of its origins beyond what they’ve been told by Hilton.
“I don’t know that his background has affected his position or his ability to do his work,” said Carla Colstad, a member of the Hardin City Council. “I don’t consider it relevant to what’s going on today.”
Hilton — who came to Hardin last week in a black, military-style uniform — portrayed his company as an international player in the security industry. No records have been found of the extensive U.S. government contracts he claims.
Instead, documents and interviews with Hilton’s associates revealed a history of fraud and criminal activity. That includes outstanding judgments against him in three civil cases totaling more than $1.1 million.
“Such schemes you cannot believe,” said Joseph Carella, an Orange County, Calif., doctor and co-defendant with Hilton in a real estate fraud case that resulted in a civil judgment against Hilton and several others.
Carella, described in court documents as a “pawn” in the scheme, said he was never a willing participant. But he acknowledged partnering with Hilton in other failed business deals after being won over by his charm.
“The guy’s brilliant. If he had been able to do honest work, he probably would have been a gazillionaire,” Carella said.
As for Hilton’s military expertise, including his claim to have advised forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, several associates interviewed knew of no such feats, although one said Hilton had talked of being in the special forces in Greece decades ago.
Most who knew him described Hilton alternately as an art dealer, cook, restaurant owner, land developer, loan broker and car salesman.
Hilton did not return numerous calls seeking comment this week. American Police Force attorney Maziar Mafi referred questions to company spokeswoman Becky Shay.
When asked about court records detailing Hilton’s past, Shay replied: “The documents speak for themselves. If anyone has found public documents, the documents are what they are.”
The three SUVs Hilton brought to Montana have yet to be turned over to the city, which does not have a police force of its own but is considering forming one.
At least one is being driven by Shay, a former reporter who abruptly quit her job at the Billings Gazette to work for American Police Force. She said Hilton offered her $60,000 a year.
The jail deal is worth more than $2.6 million a year, according to city leaders.
His criminal record goes back to at least 1988, when Hilton was arrested in Santa Ana, Calif., for writing bad checks. In 1993, Hilton was sentenced to six years in prison in California on a dozen counts of grand theft and attempted grand theft and other charges including illegal diversion of construction funds.
Update 4: 10/1/2009 11:30GMT: American Police Force West Cost Office Shares Address with Medical Marijuana Dispensary
American Police Force listed the following address for its “West Coast Division”:
American Police Force – West Coast Division
1202 East 17th Street Suite 200
Santa Ana, CA 92701
(Screen shot at UAFF.)
That just happens to be the address for South Coast Patients Center, a medical marijuana dispensary.
Update 3: 10/1/2009 10:50GMT: APF Head Hilton Has Criminal Past
Via: Billings Gazette:
RUFFIN PREVOST Gazette Wyoming Bureau | Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 6:25 pm
CODY, Wyo. – Michael Hilton of American Police Force arrived in Hardin with promises of Mercedes police cars and expertise in operating prisons. He delivered the cars last week, but may have learned about prisons following a 1993 conviction for grand theft.
Public records from police and state and federal courts in California show that Michael Anthony Hilton, using that name and more than a dozen aliases over several years, is cited in multiple criminal, civil and bankruptcy cases, and was sentenced in 1993 to two years in state prison in California.
Hilton pleaded guilty in March 1993 to 14 felonies, including 10 counts of grand theft, one count of attempted grand theft and three counts of diversion of construction funds, according to Orange County court records. He was sentenced to two years in prison, but it is unclear how much time he served.
Court records in that case list his real name as Michael Hilton, but they also include the aliases Midrag Ilia Dokovitch, Midrag Ilia Dokovich and Michael Miodrag.
Hilton, who speaks heavily accented English, has told reporters that he is a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Montenegro, a country bordering Serbia, and once part of the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
The same aliases and other similar ones, all with slightly different spellings, show up in many other court documents citing Hilton, including a May 2003 Orange County case in which Hilton pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol.
A booking photo from the Huntington Beach Police Department from Hilton’s DUI arrest on March 14, 2003, shows him heavier, beardless and with more hair than he has now.
It also shows the same facial features, including a distinct arched wrinkle over his left eye, along with three deep brow furrows, small, circular indentations in the center of his forehead and a cleft tip on the nose.
Michael Hilton and his aliases are listed as defendants in various Orange County civil cases alleging fraud and breach of warranty, including a March 2000 case where he is accused of fraud, larceny, breach of contract and false pretenses.
Court documents in that case allege that Hilton and others solicited investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the plaintiff for the creation of collectible Super Bowl commemorative coins.
The complaint alleges that Hilton and others falsely told the plaintiff that the money would be used for the design and manufacture of the coins, and to pay for a National Football League license to produce them.
In fact, the complaint states, no such license was ever issued by the NFL.
Court documents show that the plaintiff obtained a 2001 judgment for $200,000 against Hilton, listing his aliases of Miodrag Dokovich and Midrag Ilia Dokovich.
Hilton also declared Chapter 13 bankruptcy twice during a 15-month period.
He filed under his real name, citing the alias Miodrag A. Dokovich, in November 2002, listing a Stanton, Calif., home address and a Fountain Valley, Calif., business address tied to the Belgrade Market Liquor and Deli.
In February 2004, Hilton filed under his real name, citing the alias Miodrag Dokovich, and listing a Santa Ana, Calif., home address. He estimated his assets at less than $50,000, and listed as creditors only a credit union and his landlord.
Both bankruptcy filings appear to have been intended to delay eviction proceedings against him. Under federal bankruptcy law, tenants are generally protected from eviction while they reorganize their finances.
Anh Q.D. Nguyen, a Garden Grove attorney, said in an e-mail that he represented Hilton’s landlord in an eviction case against Hilton that was filed in January 2004.
Nguyen said that Hilton “filed an eleventh-hour bankruptcy petition in which my office successfully obtained relief from the bankruptcy automatic stay, in order to reclaim possession of the rented premises.”
Hilton had also been named as a defendant in July 2002 as part of separate eviction proceedings before his bankruptcy filing that year.
Hilton filed both bankruptcies without an attorney, paying less than $275 in filing fees for each. Both petitions were dismissed by the court after Hilton failed to provide necessary documentation, including a financial reorganization plan.
Chapter 13 bankruptcies generally remain on personal credit histories for seven years, and show up on standard credit checks.
When asked on Wednesday about Hilton’s business dealings before his involvement with APF, company spokeswoman Becky Shay said, “That information is not going to be made available at this point.”
“That’s his private business. He is a man who distinguishes between private and business, between personal and corporate,” she said.
Shay said she would check with Hilton for a comment about his DUI arrest, but did not provide further details.
She did not respond to an additional call made later Wednesday seeking more information about Hilton’s other past legal problems.
Update 2: 10/1/2009 02:40GMT: California Jail Entrepreneur Has Checkered Past
Put a fork in it… It’s done.
Calif. jail entrepreneur has checkered past
By MATTHEW BROWN (AP)
BILLINGS, Mont. — Michael Hilton pitched himself to officials in Hardin, Mont. as a military veteran turned private sector entrepreneur, a California defense contractor with extensive government contracts who promised to turn the rural city’s empty jail into a cash cow.
Hardin’s leaders were desperate to fill the $27 million jail, which has sat empty since its 2007 completion.
So when Hilton came to town last week — wearing a military-style uniform and offering three Mercedes SUVs for use by local law enforcement — he was greeted with hugs by some grateful residents. The promise of more than 200 new jobs for a community struggling long before the recession hit had won them over.
But public documents and interviews with Hilton’s associates and legal adversaries offer a different picture, that of a convicted felon with a number of aliases, a string of legal judgments against him, two bankruptcies and a decades-long reputation for deals gone bad.
American Police Force is the company Hilton formed in March to take over the Hardin jail.
“Such schemes you cannot believe,” said Joseph Carella, an Orange County, Calif. doctor and co-defendant with Hilton in a real estate fraud case that resulted in a civil judgment against Hilton and several others.
“The guy’s brilliant. If he had been able to do honest work, he probably would have been a gazillionaire,” Carella said.
Court documents show Hilton has outstanding judgments against him in three civil cases totaling more than $1.1 million.
As for Hilton’s military expertise, including his claim to have advised forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, those interviewed knew of no such feats. Instead, Hilton was described alternately by those who know him as an arts dealer, cook, restaurant owner, land developer, loan broker and car salesman — always with a moneymaking scheme in the works.
Hilton did not return several calls seeking comment. American Police Force attorney Maziar Mafi referred questions to company spokeswoman Becky Shay.
When asked about court records detailing Hilton’s past, Shay replied, “The documents speak for themselves. If anyone has found public documents, the documents are what they are.”
Shay declined comment on Hilton’s military experience.
Al Peterson, vice president of Hardin’s Two Rivers Authority, which built the jail, declined to comment on Hilton’s legal troubles. He refused to say if he knew about Hilton’s past when the authority reached a 10-year agreement with American Police Force last month.
The deal is worth more than $2.6 million a year, according to city leaders.
Hilton has also pledged to build a $17 million military and law enforcement training center. And he’s promised to dispatch security to patrol Hardin’s streets, build an animal shelter and a homeless shelter and offer free health care to city resident’s out of the jail’s clinic.
Those additional promises were not included in the jail agreement, which remains in limbo because US Bank has so far declined to sign off on the contract. The bank is the trustee for the bonds used to fund the jail.
A US Bank spokeswoman declined to comment, but Peterson was adamant the deal would be approved.
“It’s a solid deal. That’s all I’ll say,” he said.
But a representative of a corrections advocacy group that has been critical of Hardin’s jail and has investigated Hilton’s past said city leaders dropped the ball.
“I’m amazed that city officials didn’t do basic research that would have raised significant questions about American Private Police Force and Mr. Hilton’s background,” said Alex Friedmann, vice president of the Private Corrections Institute.
Hilton, 55, uses the title “captain” when introducing himself and on his business cards. But he acknowledged it was not a military rank.
He said he is naturalized U.S. citizen and native of Montenegro. Aliases for Hilton that appear in court documents include Miodrag Dokovich, Michael Hamilton, Hristian Djokich and Michael Djokovich.
One attorney who dealt with Hilton in a fraud lawsuit referred to him as a “chameleon” and he has a reputation for winning people over with his charm.
His criminal record goes back to at least 1988, when Hilton was arrested in Santa Ana, Calif. for writing bad checks.
Beginning in 1993, Hilton spent six years in prison in California on a dozen counts of grand theft and other charges including illegal diversion of construction funds.
The charges included stealing $20,000 in a real estate swindle in which Hilton convinced an associate to give him a deed on property in Long Beach, Calif., ostensibly as collateral on a loan. Hilton turned around and sold the property to another party but was caught when the buyer contacted the original owner.
After his release, he got entangled in at least three civil lawsuits alleging fraud or misrepresentation. Those included luring investors to sink money into gold and silver collectible coins; posing as a fine arts dealer in Utah in order to convince a co uple to give him a $100,000 silver statue; and, in the case involving co-defendant Carella, seeking investors for an assisted living complex in Southern California that was never built.
Carella said he was duped into becoming a partner in the development project and that Hilton used Carella’s status as a physician to lure others into the scheme. He was described in court testimony as a “pawn” used by Hilton to lure investors.
Those involved with Hilton say he is an accomplished cook with a flair for the extravagant — wining and dining potential partners, showing up at the Utah couple’s house to negotiate for the silver statue in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes.
“This is the way we got taken,” said Carolyn Call of Provo, Utah, who said she gave Hilton her family’s silver statue to sell on the open market.
According to court documents, Hilton turned around and gave the statue to an attorney to pay for his services.
Two California attorneys said Wednesday that after learning of Hilton’s latest activities they planned to follow him to Montana to seek payment on the outstanding judgments against him.
“Once I know that there is an asset or some sort of funds to go after, we’ll go after it,” said Call’s attorney, Roger Naghash.
Associated Press writers Amy Taxin in Santa Ana and Greg Risling in Los Angeles and researcher Barbara Sambriski in New York contributed to this story.
Update 1: 9/30/2009 03:05GMT: Residents Surprised to See Mercedes SUVs Marked ‘Hardin police’
Is Michael Hilton this guy’s real name?
Michael Hilton with American Police Force, a private California security company seeking to take over a $27 million jail in Hardin, stands outside the city offices after meeting with Hardin officials on Friday. Associated Press photo.
By MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press – Posted: Sunday, September 27, 2009 6:45 am
HARDIN – After arriving in this rural city with three Mercedes SUVs marked with the logo of a nonexistent police department, representatives of an obscure California security company said preparations were under way to take over Hardin’s never-used, $27 million jail.
Significant obstacles remain – including a lack of any prisoner contracts on the part of the company that wants to run the jail, American Police Force.
And on Friday came the revelation the company’s operating agreement for the facility has yet to be validated – two weeks after city leaders first unveiled what they said was a signed agreement.
Still, some Hardin leaders said the deal to turn over the 464-bed jail remained on track.
The agreement with American Police Force has been heavily promoted by members of the city’s economic development branch, the Two Rivers Authority. Authority vice president Albert Peterson on Friday repeated his claim to be “100 percent” confident in the company.
The lead public figure for American Police Force, Michael Hilton, said more than 200 employees would be sought for the jail and a proposed military and law enforcement training center.
That would be a significant boost to Hardin, a struggling town of 3,500 located about 45 miles east of Billings. An earlier announcement that a job fair would be held during the last week never came to fruition.
The bonds used to pay for the jail have been in default since May 2008.
Hilton also said he planned a helicopter tour of the region in coming days to look at real estate for a planned tactical military training ground. He said 5,000 to 10,000 acres were needed to complement the training center, a $17 million project.
But the company’s flashy arrival stirred new questions. The logo on the black Mercedes SUVs said “City of Hardin Police Department.”
Yet the city has not had a police force of its own for 30 years.
“Pretty looking police car, ain’t it?” Hardin resident Leroy Frickle, 67, said as he eyed one of the vehicles parked in front of a bed and breakfast where Hilton and other company representatives were staying. “The things you hear about this American Police, I don’t know what to think.”
Hilton said the vehicles would be handed over to the city if it forms a police force of its own. The city is now under the jurisdiction of the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office.
After meeting briefly with Hilton on Friday, Mayor Ron Adams said he wanted the police logos removed.
“This helps, but it doesn’t answer everything until the contract is signed,” Adams said. “Talk is cheap.”
Hilton said the company’s arrival in Hardin would help allay such concerns. And he promised that on Feb. 1, 2010, Hardin would receive its first check under a deal said to be worth more than $2.6 million annually.
Little has been revealed to date about American Police Force. The company was incorporated in California in March, soon after Hardin’s empty jail gained notoriety after city leaders suggested it could be used for the Guantanamo Bay terrorism detainees.
Members of Montana’s congressional delegation say they have been closely monitoring the events in Hardin, but the city has largely been going it alone.
In the two years since the jail was built, city leaders have clashed repeatedly with the administration of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who opposed efforts to bring in out-of-state prisoners.
After then-Attorney General Mike McGrath issued a 2007 opinion saying prisoners from other states were prohibited, Hardin successfully sued the state.
Despite the city’s contention that the state has continued to foil its efforts to find prisoners, Montana Department of Corrections spokesman Bob Anez said his agency is no longer involved. “That’s water under the bridge,” Anez said.
On Friday, American Police Force announced its first local hire: a reporter for the Billings Gazette, Becky Shay, who has covered events surrounding the jail since its construction. She will be the company’s spokeswoman for $60,000 a year.
Shay said she intended to bring new transparency to the process, but declined to directly answer the first question posed to her: Where is American Police Force getting the money to operate the jail and build the training center?
“I know enough about where the money is coming from to be confident signing on with them,” she said.
Gazette editor Steve Prosinski said he was first informed about Shay’s decision to leave the paper on Friday. “We weren’t aware that she was talking with them about employment,” he said.
Hilton said he also had a job discussion with Kerri Smith, wife of Two Rivers Authority executive director Greg Smith, who helped craft the deal to bring American Police Force to Hardin. Greg Smith was placed on unpaid leave two weeks ago for reasons that have not been explained.
Kerri Smith is one of two finalists in the city’s mayoral race. Hilton said he asked her to call him about possible employment if she did not win the race. Smith could not be reached immediately for comment. A message was left by the Associated Press at a theater owned by the Smith family. Her home number is unlisted.
defenseproductsolutions.com is hosted on the same IP (126.96.36.199) as americanpolicegroup.com. Both sites feature the same logo. Click on the Catalog link on defenseproductsolutions.com and say ‘hello’ to Edward Angelino.
Other business names associated with him: Allied Defense Systems, Inc. (allieddefensesystems.com) and Defense Consulting Group, Inc. There are almost certainly many more. I only spent ten minutes on this.
I looked through a couple of the sites that use the same template and noticed this:
Founded in 1990, ADS and its veteran team have serviced a variety of contracts under extreme conditions in the Middle East. Our projects have ranged from base camp construction operations to supplying world-class military vehicles. In the midst of international tensions, ADS will perform.
Founded in 2004, DPS and its veteran team have serviced a variety of contracts under extreme conditions in the Middle East. Our projects have ranged from base camp construction operations to supplying world-class military vehicles. In the midst of international tensions, DPS will perform.
Searching [email protected] will bring up more links for anyone who’s interested in unraveling these antics. Oh yeah! Do you have a, “2002 Lamborghini Murcielago tail winng or spoliler”[sic]? You might have a buyer. Guess who? Yep, that’s right.
There are many addresses, phone and fax numbers associated with all of this. I’m not sure why the Associated Press and others haven’t made these connections, but it’s all available on Google.
The Two Rivers Detention Center was promoted as the largest economic development project in decades in the small town of Hardin when the jail was built two years ago. But it has been vacant ever since.
City officials have searched from Vermont to Alaska for inmate contracts to fill the jail, only to be turned down at every turn and see the bonds that financed its construction fall into default. They even floated the idea of housing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay at the jail.
So when Hardin officials announced this week that they had signed a deal with a California company to fill the empty jail, it was naturally a cause for celebration. Town officials talked about throwing a party to mark the occasion, their dreams of economic salvation a step closer to being realized.
But questions are emerging over the legitimacy of the company, American Police Force.
Government contract databases show no record of the company. Security industry representatives and federal officials said they had never heard of it. On its Web site, the company lists as its headquarters a building in Washington near the White House that holds “virtual offices.” A spokeswoman for the building said American Police Force never completed its application to use the address.
And it’s unclear where the company will get the inmates for the jail. Montana says it’s not sending inmates to the jail, and neither are federal officials in the state.
An attorney for American Police Force, Maziar Mafi, describes the Santa Ana, Calif., company as a fledgling spin-off of a major security firm founded in 1984. But Mafi declined to name the parent firm or provide details on how the company will finance its jail operations.
“It will gradually be more clear as things go along,” said Mafi, a personal injury and medical malpractice lawyer in Santa Ana who was only hired by American Police Force a month ago. “The nature of this entity is private security and for security purposes, as well as for the interest of their clientele, that’s why they prefer not to be upfront.”
On its elaborate Web site and in interviews with company representatives, American Police Force claims to sell assault rifles and other weapons in Afghanistan on behalf of the U.S. military while providing security, investigative work and other services to clients “in all 50 states and most countries.”
The company also boasts to have “rapid response units awaiting our orders worldwide” and that it can field a battalion-sized team of special forces soldiers “within 72 hours.”
Representatives of American Police Force said the company presently employs at least 16 and as many as 28 people in the United States and 1,600 contractors worldwide.
“APF plays a critical role in helping the U.S. government meet vital homeland security and national defense needs,” the company says on its Web site. “Within the last 5 years the United States has been far and away our” number 1 client.
However, an Associated Press search of two comprehensive federal government contractor databases turned up no record of American Police Force.
Representatives of security trade groups said they had never heard of American Police Force, although they added secrecy was prevalent in the industry and it was possible the company had avoided the public limelight.
“They’re really invisible,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council. The group’s members include major security contractors Triple Canopy, DynCorp and Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide.
“Even a single unclassified contract in the last couple of years should show up” in the federal database, Chvotkin added.
Spokesmen for the State Department and Defense Department said they could not immediately find any records of contracts with the company. The city has not released a copy of its agreement with American Police Force. But the deal as announced would be a sweet one for Hardin, a depressed rural town of 3,500 about 45 miles east of Billings.
The company is pledging to fill the 464-bed facility by early next year.
Hardin officials say the first payment on the contract is due Feb. 1 — regardless of whether any prisoners are in place. The city’s economic development authority would get enough money to pay off the bondholders and receive $5 per prison a day.
American Police Force also is promising to invest $30 million in new projects for the city, including a military and law enforcement training center with a 250-bed dormitory and an expansion of the jail to 2,000 beds. The company says it will build a homeless shelter, offer free health care for city residents and even deliver meals to the needy.
Where the prisoners would come from is unclear. City officials said California was the most likely possibility, but a spokesman for that state’s corrections system said there was no truth to the claim.
Federal prisoners also were mentioned by both American Police Force and the city. U.S. Marshal Dwight MacKay in Billings said he would have been notified if such a plan was pending.
“There’s skepticism over whether this is a real thing,” MacKay said.
Hardin officials said they were approached by American Police Force about six months ago, soon after the city made international news in its quest to become “America’s Gitmo.” American Police Force incorporated around the same time.
Albert Peterson, the city’s school superintendent and vice president of the authority that built the jail, said the city was “guaranteed” the contract would be upheld.
“There’s never a question in my mind after I’ve done my homework. It’s legit,” Peterson said of American Police Force. “We believe in each other.”
The contract was still being reviewed by the city attorney, he said.
Peterson refused to answer when asked if he knew the name of American Police Force’s parent firm. He said news coverage of the city’s political tussles with the administration of Gov. Brian Schweitzer had left him suspicious of the press. The administration brought a court challenge over whether Hardin could take out-of-state inmates at the jail.
“If you’re looking for the source of the money, you’re not going to find it from me,” Peterson said.
A member of the Texas consortium that developed the jail, Mike Harling, said he had “every reason to believe they’ll be successful.”
Mafi, the American Police Force attorney, said his company intends to reverse Hardin’s recent problems with the jail and give the town an economic boost.
In Santa Ana, American Police Force occupies a single suite on the second floor of a two-story office building. During a visit to the location Thursday, a reporter for The Associated Press encountered a uniformed man behind a desk who would identify himself only as “Captain Michael.”
The man declined to discuss basic details about the company and referred the reporter to the company’s Web site. In a subsequent phone interview, he provided his surname but insisted it not be used because of security concerns. The man said he was a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Montenegro with decades of experience in military and law enforcement operations.
The man said his boss is a retired U.S. Army colonel named Richard Culver who is currently overseas. Culver’s role with the company could not be immediately verified.
The company claim of a headquarters address is just up the street from the White House.
The K Street building houses “virtual offices,” where clients pay to use the prestigious Pennsylvania Avenue address and gain access to onsite conference rooms but have no permanent presence.
“It lets small businesses get started up and have a professional front and not have a lot of a cash to do it,” said Ashley Korner with Preferred Offices, which leases the location.
She said American Police Force’s application to use the address was pending, but incomplete.
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