Mysterious Private Security Firm Gets Control Of Empty Jail In Small Montana Town
TPM Muckraker- Justin Elliott | September 30, 2009, 3:16PM
A shadowy private security company that has no known clients but claims to have helped foreign governments combat terrorism and will protect anything from cruise ships to Pakistani convoys has taken over a jail in a small Montana town, with plans to build a law enforcement training facility on the property.
The state legislature is looking into the matter and residents of Hardin, MT, were alarmed last week when executives from the firm, American Police Force, showed up in the town, which does not have its own police department, with Mercedes SUVs bearing “City Of Hardin Police Department” decals.
And the town has had to tamp down reports on conspiracy Web sites that APF plans to impose experimental H1N1 vaccines on residents under threat of quarantine in the jail.
Under a lease signed with Hardin, APF, based in Santa Ana, California, and incorporated just six months ago, is now in control of a 400-bed detention facility the town built a few years ago but never used, a town official confirmed to TPMmuckraker today. The town reportedly stands to make over $2 million per year.
Just what American Police Force plans to do with the detention facility, which comes with 50 acres of land in the small south-central Montana town, is unclear. Also not clear is who, if anyone, APF plans to put in the jail. (Watch a video tour of the jail here.)
Hardin, which is in default on the bonds it used to build the jail, recently undertook an unsuccessful campaign to make the jail a new home for Gitmo detainees. When that failed, the town turned to APF
The 10-year contract that is now awaiting final approval of lawyers gives APF the option of building a training facility, said Al Peterson, spokesman for the Hardin economic development authority. APF has said it plans to invest $30 million in the site, including $17M in the training facility, where law enforcement will get sniper training and learn “DNA analysis” skills.
And where is American Police Force getting the money for this venture? Company spokeswoman Becky Shay — until about a week ago the Billings Gazette reporter covering APF — says they are no plans to answer that question. She did not respond to a request for comment.
The matter has attracted the attention of the Montana state legislature, which is seeking more information about the arrangement between Hardin and APF. The committee that deals with legal matters will send a letter to Hardin officials to get more details on the deal, Representative Bob Ebinger (D) tells TPMmuckraker.
“Because of the apparent secretiveness of this, it gives the far right and far left to come up with all kinds of ideas. That’s why I’d like to see some clarification,” Ebinger says.
Peterson, the Hardin official, says the controversy sparked last week when APF executives appeared in black SUVs marked “City Of Hardin Police Department” was a misunderstanding of an act of goodwill by the company. The decals were taken off within the day, he says.
TOUR JAIL IN THIS VIDEO: