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Is paramilitary group involved in Montana prison deal an ‘American police farce’?

by Chris Carter

The American Police Force (APF) is a mysterious group reportedly hoping to lease the Two Rivers Detention Center in Hardin, Montana. Trouble is, the APF is not answering questions regarding the source of their financing, their parent company, or even from where the group plans to obtain prisoners. Worse yet, the APF is rumored to have other plans for the area – some not approved by local officials.

The APF claims to be a private security company, however, a search of two comprehensive contractor databases by the Associated Press turned up no record of the company. Representatives from the Defense Department, State Department, and security industry representatives have not heard of the group that boasts 1,600 employees, “rapid response units” ready to deploy “worldwide,” and the ability to field a battalion-sized team of special forces soldiers “within 72 hours.”

APF was incorporated in March, curiously just as Hardin officials were scrambling to fill the jail and media reported they were even willing to house terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay. [Article continues after photo.]

Screen capture of frame in You Tube video of Two Rivers Detention Center; video was produced by Two Rivers Authority.

Ironically in early September Becky Shay wrote a story raising questions. She was working as a reporter for the paper. Shay wrote about APF: "Calls to confirm whether the company has contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense were not returned Thursday. The address provided on the company's Web site for Washington, D.C., leads to the business Preferred Offices, which leases real and "virtual" offices. That company's director, Ashley Corner, said it does not have a service agreement with any business named American Private Police Force Organization."

The APF raised more concern when three Mercedes Benz SUVs arrived in Hardin bearing Hardin Police Department markings. Hardin hasn't had a police department for 30 years, and at the time of the APF's arrival, the Big Horn Sheriff's office had jurisdiction.

Hardin's mayor Ron Adams ordered the markings removed. However, steps are underway to stand up a Hardin police force – a move strongly supported by APF.

Two Rivers Authority (TRA) vice president Al Peterson responded, “I have no idea. I really don't because that's not been a part of any of the discussions we've had with any of them.”

What other activities could APF have in store that aren't part of the “discussions?”

According to the TRA, no one has agreed to the APF having jurisdiction over Hardin. "That was never in the contract to begin with. I think it was on a wish list of what Captain Michael [Hilton] wanted to do here,” said Peterson. Despite earlier claims by city officials that an agreement was made two weeks ago, they are still working on the agreement, which only covers the jail. APF has mentioned other services they would provide the community, such as a homeless shelter, animal shelter, MRI services, and that their police would bring meals to the hungry.

APF has told media that 80% of the group's 200-plus jobs would be from the Hardin area. The job fair that APF promised has yet to materialize, but on Friday after the group hired Becky Shay, the Billings Gazette writer who had been covering the story, she promised a new level of transparency. But Shay still won't answer key questions.

Maziar Mafi, the group's attorney (who was hired only last month), said that the APF spun off of a larger security group in 1984. Mafi, Hilton, and Shay all refuse to name the parent group, and are not forthcoming on how APF will finance their operations.

“I have assurances and I have faith that there are connections with that parent group. I can't say more than that,” Shay said.

Officials are not disclosing who the APF has hired as director of operations to head the taxpayer-funded jail. Peterson said Wednesday that "people will be shocked" when they learn that "a person of this caliber and this quality" will be running the facility.

"I did my background checks and my homework, and they're legit," said Peterson.

Apparently, his “background checks” did not include “Captain” Michael Hilton, the president of APF variously listed as a spokesman. Hilton allegedly is originally from Montenegro (formerly part of the Republic of Yugoslavia) and speaks with a heavy accent. In the daily newspaper The Missoulian, The Billings Gazette section reported on Thursday that Hilton goes by more than a dozen different aliases and has an extensive criminal background, including criminal, civil and bankruptcy cases. The paper says Orange County, Calif. records reveal that Hilton has been convicted of 14 felonies, including grand theft and diversion of construction funds.

Hilton reportedly claims to have military expertise and claims to have spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Associated Press could not verify those claims.

Greg Smith, the TRA official who is responsible for bringing the APF to Hardin, was placed on administrative leave, and no one is answering questions as to the nature of the dismissal. His wife Kerri is one of two finalists in the race for Hardin mayor, and if she loses, will be offered a job by the APF.

Peterson says that the two parties now hope to reach a deal by Friday night. Is American Police Force a solution for the small town's prison sans prisoners? Or is this a case of an 'American police farce'?

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