Officials Assure Residents About Hardin Jail Contract

By Beacon Staff

HARDIN – The vice president of Hardin’s economic development agency is trying to assure residents that its contract with a California company to operate and expand a private jail is legitimate.

The Two Rivers Authority has sought inmate contracts with no success since the 464-bed jail was completed in 2007. A security company named American Police Force reached a deal with Hardin earlier this month to fill the long-vacant jail.

Al Peterson, who is also Hardin’s superintendent of schools, wouldn’t release a copy of the contract. Bond holders have not signed off on the contract, which is being re-negotiated with regard to how $27 million in revenue bonds used to build the jail will be repaid. The bonds went into default last year.

Under the agreement, APF said it will seek contracts with federal, state and local jurisdictions to house inmates, and bring those contracts to the Two Rivers board to sign. Peterson told a standing-room-only crowd at a city council meeting Tuesday the facility will not house terrorists and there won’t be any torture or waterboarding.

“I don’t know how some of the imaginations run wild around here,” he said. “But it isn’t going to happen, folks.”

The Associated Press has raised questions about the legitimacy of American Police Force. Government contract databases show no record of the company, and security industry representatives and federal officials said they have never heard of it. However, representatives of security trade groups said added secrecy was prevalent in the industry and it was possible the company had avoided the public limelight.

The company’s Web site lists as its East Coast headquarters a building in Washington near the White House that holds “virtual offices.” A spokeswoman for the building said American Police Force’s application to use the address is pending, but incomplete.

It is also unclear where APF would get inmates for the jail. State and federal officials in Montana say they are not sending inmates there.

An attorney for American Police Force, Maziar Mafi, describes the company as a fledgling spin-off of a major security firm founded in 1984. But he declined to name the parent firm, assuring a reporter that “it will gradually be more clear as things go along.”

Peterson said APF incorporated in California in February, but is a subsidiary of a company he would not name. That company, which he said is in international security, is protected by incorporating the new branch, Peterson said.

That protection is “just a good business practice,” Peterson said.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Peterson said he had talked to APF representatives and has seen documentation of the parent company’s work.

“They are who they say they are and they are going to do what they say they are going to do,” he said.

American Police Force says it plans 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, deliver meals to the needy and possibly provide a local police force.

Hardin officials said they were approached by American Police Force about six months ago, shortly after the city made international news in its quest to hold inmates from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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