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Michael Hilton

Hardin, Montana, Puts Jail Deal With APPF On Ice

TPM MUCKRAKER– Justin Elliott | October 6, 2009, 9:08AM

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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APF spokesperson holds emotional press conference; lawyer quits project

Billings Gazette

TOM LUTEY Of The Gazette Staff October 2, 2009 7:40 pm

A sobbing spokeswoman for the secretive company occupying the Hardin jail welcomed an investigation by Montana’s attorney general Friday and expressed concerns for her own safety amid rumors about her company.

Becky Shay, in a 45-minute, wide-ranging press conference during which she occasionally broke into tears, said the California-based American Police Force welcomed an information request made Thursday by Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock.

Meanwhile, an attorney involved in the project cut ties with APF Friday and a second company, once named as a subcontractor, denied any involvement.

Shay said she hadn’t been formally served papers by the attorney general, who said he is concerned that APF might be violating the Montana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act. APF has reached a multimillion-dollar agreement with Hardin’s economic development arm, Two Rivers Authority, to run the empty Hardin jail, built two years ago to house inmates under contract. She said she had read of Bullock’s request in the news media.

Shay mentioned the attorney general’s request almost as a two-minute side note in a press conference that revealed that the former Billings Gazette reporter and new face of APF fears for her safety.

“A lot of work I’ve done has been to calm down or at least try to counteract comments from people I consider to be fear mongers,” Shay said. “What has happened in the interim, however, is those people’s friends around the nation have been in contact with me or tried to access me. I realize I’m being pretty vague so that we don’t support or incite these people. I don’t want my words to be taken out of context to further inflame the tensions that I’m working under.”

At that point, Shay began to cry. She asked TV media at the conference to turn their cameras off because, she said, “it’s important to me that I do not appear as vulnerable as I feel.”

APF officials, who rolled into Hardin last week in three black, Mercedes sport utility vehicles bearing faux police insignia and no license plates, have since departed, leaving Shay as the company’s lone point of contact for all comers, including those reading dire motives into APF’s insistent secrecy.

Shay said APF front man Michael Hilton plans to return to Hardin for a two-day job fair beginning Oct. 12.

Specifically, Shay mentioned Internet radio personality Alex Jones, of Austin, Texas. Jones, of infowars.com, was in Hardin on Thursday reporting on APF. Government and corporate takeovers of society are hot topics on Infowars. Jones indicated the Hardin situation was an example of the possibility of government or corporate takeover of a rural area.

Jones said Hardin’s story involved a convicted felon, Hilton, landing in the middle of nowhere and taking over a large jail capable of serving a city of several hundred thousand people. The facility, empty since it was constructed roughly two years ago, has room for more than 464 beds.

More from Billings

More Legal Issues for APF: Kulr8.com

Video from Billings Gazette

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Montana AG Probing American Police Force Deal

TPM MUCKRAKER- Zachary Roth | October 2, 2009, 9:50AM

Could the party be over for American Police Force?

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock is investigating the mysterious security contractor’s deal to run an empty jail in the tiny town of Hardin, reports the Billings Gazette. And he doesn’t appear to be messing around.

In a nine-page letter sent late yesterday afternoon to Becky Shay — the former Gazette reporter who recently signed on as APF’s public relations director — Bullock said he’s probing whether APF may be violating Montana’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act.

Specifically, Bullock wants proof for many of the statements on APF’s website which have been called into question by media reports in recent days — such as the claims that the company frequently has contracts with the U.S. government, and has operations in all 50 states.

Bullock also has asked for a copy of the contract between APF and Hardin, which the town has so far declined to make public, and has asked that APF disclose any lawsuits filed against it or Michael Hilton — the APF official who led the negotiations with Hardin, and whose lengthy criminal record and alleged history of alcoholism has intensified concerns about the deal. Bullock also wants any correspondence between APF and any government agency that has accused the company of being deceptive.

Bullock sent a separate letter to Al Peterson and a second official with the Two Rivers Authority (TRA), Hardin’s economic development agency which signed the deal with APF. Peterson didn’t respond to the Gazette‘s request for comment, but asked yesterday by TPMmuckraker about the deal, he replied: “What have we got to lose?”

More on this to come…

Late Update: We’ve now obtained the letters from Bullock to APG [APF] to TRA. You can read them here.

The letter to TRA asks for all documents relating to the APF deal, and also, for information on “[a]ll direct or indirect interests Authority board members or their immediate families in American Police Force (including without limitation its officers, affiliates, or agents).”

In a conciliatory note, Bullock adds: “In writing, I also wish to express my understanding of your concern for your community and the pressure you are under to fill the unoccupied facility.”

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“Captain” Michael? APF Official Admits Title Is Bogus

TPM MUCKRAKER- Zachary Roth | October 1, 2009, 3:33PM

Earlier we told you about Michael Hilton, the American Police Force official with a lengthy criminal record and a history of alcoholism, who inked a deal to have his mysterious security company take over a Montana jail.

And here’s a hilarious little indication of just what kind of a Gatsby-esque character — to put it very charitably — Michael Hilton appears to be.

Reports the AP:

Hilton, 55, uses the title “captain” when introducing himself and on his business cards. But he acknowledged it was not a military rank.

Not a military rank, you understand. Maybe he was captain of his high-school soccer team?

Update: Read TPMmuckraker’s full coverage of AFP [APF]:

Mysterious Private Security Firm Gets Control Of Empty Jail In Small Montana Town

American Police Force Leader’s Long Criminal Record

American Police Force Offers Fugitive Tracking, ‘Covert Pregnancy Testing’ and More!

Reporter-Turned-APF-Flack: “I Made A Great Career Choice”

Montana Town Reassures Public On APF: “There Are No Commandos In The Streets”

“Captain” Michael? APF Official Admits Title Is Bogus

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American Police Force Leader’s Long Criminal Record

TPM MUCKRAKER- Zachary Roth | October 1, 2009, 11:17AM

The American Police Force, that mysterious security company that just took over an empty jail in Hardin, Montana, is looking shadier than ever.

Since yesterday, details have been emerging about the background of the man behind APF — a California-based grifter, who has said he’s a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Montenegro, and uses the name Michael Hilton.

Over the years, Hilton has served jail time for fraud, and had a string of arrests and other run-ins with the law. Based on reports from the AP, the Billings Gazette, and Prison Legal News, here’s a quick rundown:

1988: Hilton arrested in Santa Ana, Calif. for writing bad checks.

April 1990: Hilton is again arrested in Santa Ana for writing bad checks and for grand theft.

1992: A civil judgment of $83,000 is entered against Hilton and Ilia Dokovich.

March 1993: Hilton pleads guilty in Orange County court to 14 felonies, including 10 counts of grand theft. One charge involves a $20,000 real estate scam, in which Hilton persuaded an associate to give him a deed on property in Long Beach, Calif., saying it was to be used as collateral on a loan, then sold the property to someone else. According to the AP, he spends six years in prison in California.

1999: A small claims judgment is entered against Hilton for $3,979.

2000: the same plaintiff obtans another small claims judgment against Hilton in Los Angeles County, this one for $1,852.

March 2000: Hilton is accused of fraud, larceny, and breach of contract, in connection to a venture in which Hilton and others recruited the plaintiff to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to create collectible Super Bowl commemorative coins. According to the complaint, Hilton and the others said the money would be used for the design and manufacture of the coins and for a license to produce them from the National Football League — but the NFL never issued a license. Hilton is ultimately ordered to pay the plaintiff $200,000.

Around the same period: Hilton also faces two similar fraud suits: In one, he’s accused of posing as a fine arts dealer to deceive a Utah couple into giving him a $100,000 silver statue. In the other, he is said to have teamed with a doctor to recruit investors for a southern California assisted-living facility that was never built.

November 2002: Hilton files for bankruptcy, in order to avoid eviction by his landlord.

March 2003: Hilton is arrested for DUI in Huntington Beach.

February 2004: Hilton files for bankruptcy once more, again to avoid eviction.

January 2006: A $5,052 judgment lien is entered against Hilton in Orange County, CA.

A Lexis search conducted by Prison Legal News turned up the following aliases used by Hilton: Miodrag Dokovich, Miodrag Djokich, Miodrag Djokovich, Michael Hamilton, Anthony M. Hilton, Michael A. Hilton, Michael Milton and Hristian Djokich, plus related variants.

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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.

MORE HERE

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TOUR JAIL IN THIS VIDEO:

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APF Reveals Little Information

By Nick Lough & Katie Ussin

Story Published: Sep 28, 2009 at 7:53 PM MDT

Story Updated: Sep 29, 2009 at 10:00 AM MDT
Multimedia

BILLINGS – Confusion and secrecy about American Police Force has grown during the last few weeks.

“APF has been here for 10 months but it has never been stealth,” said APF spokesperson Becky Shay at a press conference on Saturday morning. The group announced its plans to fill the $27 million dollar detention facility and build a police training center next to the jail. While they gave details for the site, other questions went unanswered.

Where will the prisoners come from? What experience does APF have in prisoners and training police officers? Why was Two Rivers Authority Executive Director Greg Smith placed on administrative leave?

During the press conference APF also refused to release any information on its funding or organization “The decision is the name of the parent company will not be released,” said Shay.

When questioned about the decision to show up in Hardin last week in vehicles with “Hardin Police” templates, members were brief in their explanation. “They are to show are intentions are good,” said APF leader Captain Michael Hilton. “Why not put an APF logo on it,” said Shay. “You know we’re getting there.” All of the decals were removed from the vehicles two days later.

APF has consistently stated the community has nothing to fear and says its plans will help stimulate the Hardin economy. “This corporation’s intention is to buy local and stay local and do local business as much as we can,” said Shay.

Residents appear split in their feelings over the company. Some want more information, but others believe it will be a tremendous boost to the area. The company plans to hold a job fair in Hardin the third week of October.

Another development this weekend was the naming of Shay as APF’s new public relations director. Shay was a reporter with the Billings Gazette who had covered the detention facility story for last few years. She announced on Friday she was leaving the paper and hosted the APF press conference Saturday morning.

Be sure to check out comments on this…
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AP ENTERPRISE: Montana jail deal raises questions

The Associated Press

Matthew Brown – ‎Sep 12, 2009‎

BILLINGS, Mont. — 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.

KULR 8 video

Did I hear correctly? The spokesman for American Police Force said that they were interested in using the facility as a training center? Makes sense I guess, considering the possibility of ties to Darth Chainey and the shadow government.

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.

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