The setup is like something out of a bad movie: a sleepy country town, a private police force, an abandoned prison and secrets around every corner. But this is real. The town is Hardin, Montana, speck of dust on the map somewhere between Billings and Bozeman. For the most part, Hardin is a town that isn’t going anywhere. There’s isn’t a major anything there. Resource, industry or tourism-wise, the town is a flatline. But the people of Hardin decided they wanted to do something about that, so they built a prison.
Yeah, that’s right, they built a nearly 500 bed prison in a town with no police force and no crime problem. Their ploy was a common one – small towns in isolated areas build a prison, then prisons systems with over-crowding problems send them their prisoners. The sending prison system pays the small town prison a fee per prisoner per day, normally a good deal more than they’d pay in their own system, but still cheaper than building a new prison. The prison model is a solid one, since they employ and rely on local people while pulling revenue from an outside source. But, they are also incredibly risky. Prisons can often time be get-rich-quick schemes that never pay out like you think they will on the front end. This is what happened in Hardin.
Hardin was unable to secure any prisoner leading contracts off the bat, and then the economy went to shit and states went broke. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Governor and the Attorney General didn’t like Hardin’s idea to bring in prisoners, so they made a ruling that blocked Hardin’s entire business model. The planning commission behind the prison took the state to court, and ultimately won, but they were unable to secure any kind of contract during that time, or afterwards. They even went as far as to offer their facility as the replacement for Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay. The prison was empty, and the bonds raised to pay for it were now in default. Hardin, Montana was desperate.
Now enter three black Mercedes Benz SUVs with decals proclaiming them as City Of Hardin Police Department, an entity, which up until that day, had never existed. The SUVs belonged to the private security company America Police Force. They’d struck a deal worth millions to the beleaguered town of Hardin. American Police Force would take over control of the prison, and expand the facility to 2000 beds. They would also build a 250 bed dormitory for a several thousand acre military and law enforcement training center that would be attached to the prison compound. It is unclear who exactly would be held in the prison, and what would be taught at the training facility. Statements to the press have included a range of things from sniper training to DNA analysis.
Just who exactly is American Police Force? Well, that’s not too clear either. They claim to be a “fledgling spin-off” from a large private security company that was founded in 1984. American Police Force itself was incorporated in March of 2009. They won’t reveal the name of the company they spun off from. American Police Force also claims that the great bulk of their funding comes from the United States government, which is problematic since the news agencies digging around this story can’t find a single contract for a company of that name. But, there could be a reason for that. Any contracts that are classified don’t show up in the contract databases. American Police Force could be a real army of private spooks that’s managed to stay under the radar and out of the private security circles. After all, none of the other big dogs in the pack have ever heard of them, and if you can avoid the notice of Triple Canopy, DynCorp and Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) but still be able to muster up a battalion’s worth of special forces in 72 hours, as American Police Force claims to, you must be something special.
As far as the people of Hardin are concerned, American Police Force is the real deal. They’ve promised the town millions in community improvement projects, hundreds if not thousands of jobs, and free healthcare to Hardin residents. A local reporter was hired on as the company’s local mouth piece, and at least one person running for mayor of Hardin is courting American Police Force for a job if they lose. Provided everything goes according to plan, the first check to the city of Hardin, worth $2.6 million will dropped on their doorstep in February.
Problem is, I don’t think that check is ever going to show up.
I don’t think American Police Force even exists, at least not as entity they claim to be. Remember how I said Xe Services didn’t know who they were? Well, the American Police Force website claims to be using the US Training Center, a Xe owned and operated facility, for special training. They go so far to even list the contact information for the US Training Center, using Xe’s info. There is a clamor out there right now that American Police Force is a front for Xe/Blackwater because of this, but I think that there’s a different answer – they are cribbing the information from other, real private security groups to flesh out their website.
The real cherry on top of this insanity sundae is a man who calls himself Captain Michael Hilton. He’s been the point man for the deal in Hardin, and he’s also the only person anyone’s been able to find who actually works for American Police Force. He was the man at the West Coast address when the AP came knocking (their East Coast address is a virtual office that they haven’t even completed the application for). He claims that he’s working for some one named Richard Culver, a retired US Army officer, but no one’s been able to figure who that person is or if they even exist. Michael Hilton isn’t even really Michael Hilton, he’s a naturalized US citizen from Montenegro. There are court documents showing his name as Miodrag Dokovich, Michael Hamilton, Hristian Djokich and Michael Djokovich. There are over a million dollars worth of outstanding civil judgments against him in California for various fraud activities. He’s declared bankruptcy twice in a fifteen-month period, been evicted from his home, and been busted for grand theft and DUI. As to where he’s getting the money to do all of this?
“That information is not going to be made available at this point.”
What I think has happened is that Hilton saw the Hardin prison on the TV when they were trying to become the next Gitmo, and then figured some kind of con out of the whole deal. The problem is that I can’t think of a single way for him to make money off of this. If he doesn’t have the money to set up the facilities, then he won’t have the money to pay the city in February. And what makes him think that he can get prisoners in four months when Hardin couldn’t do it in two years?
Every part of me says that this is going to come to a terribly messy end, and the people of Hardin will be left out in the cold. I don’t think an Montenegrin con-man is going to be the person the US government is going to trust to build them a cover-ops black site in the middle of Montana.
I’ll keep an eye on this as the story develops.
TPM – Mysterious Private Security Firm Gets Control Of Empty Jail In Small Montana Town
CBS News – American Police Force Corporation Takes Over Small Town Police Force and Prisoner-Less Jail
AP – Montana jail deal raises questions
AP – Calif. jail entrepreneur has checkered past
Billings Gazette – APF head Hilton has history of legal trouble