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Hardin Jail Contract Worth $2.6M a Year

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – An obscure California security company was planning a jobs fair next week as it prepared to pay $2.6 million annually to take over a rural Montana jail that the company plans to expand into a military and police training center.

Some of those activities could involve training military and police from overseas — including Afghanistan — to run detention centers and provide security in their home countries, said company representatives and an official in Hardin, the city that built the $27 million jail.

Skepticism lingered because of a refusal by the company, Santa Ana, Calif.-based American Police Force, to say where it would get $30 million it says it will invest in the project.

It’s also unclear where the prisoners and trainees would come from. Federal and state officials have said they were unaware of any government agencies planning to use the jail or training center.

American Police Force said it intends to have prisoners in Hardin’s Two River Detention Center by early next year. An attorney for the company, Maziar Mafi, said Friday that a jobs fair for the jail is planned next week.

Final details still were being worked out, Mafi said.

The jail has sat empty for two years after being built to boost the economy of Hardin, a depressed city of about 3,500 in remote southeastern Montana.

Seeking to answer criticism of the city’s 10-year agreement with American Police Force, a Hardin official on Friday offered a few more details about the contract — even as he continued to refuse to release the document.

Albert Peterson, vice president of the city’s Two Rivers Authority, which built the jail, said the deal calls for American Police Force to pay about $220,000 a month for the jail. The authority would get an additional $5 per prisoner per day and $10 per day for law enforcement and military trainees.

Peterson said he would not release the contract until a revised version is signed. He said that could happen next week.

“It may be a public document but I’m not releasing it before Monday unless I have a court order to do that,” Peterson said.

He also said he would “come clean” on American Police Force’s parent entity, which the company has so far refused to identify.

The jail’s most vocal promoter, Greg Smith, executive director of the Two Rivers Authority, was placed on paid leave this week. City officials have refused to say why but insist it was unrelated to his work bringing American Police Force to Hardin.

Meanwhile, no contracts for prisoners or trainees are in place. And little is known about American Police Force except that it was formed in March and appears to be largely unknown within security industry circles.

Peterson said that under the terms of the agreement, the company was likely to lose money on the jail but expected to make it up with its training operations.

“The detention center is not the main thing here. It’s really the training center,” he said. “They’ll be using those trainees as guards (at the jail) and everything else.”

American Police Force claims extensive government security contracts but there is no public record that such agreements exist.

Company officials have said the entity is a spin-off of a large Washington, D.C.-based security firm with international operations.

American Police Force has been linked to other security companies, including Allied Defense Products and Defense Product Solutions. But their exact relationship remains unclear.

The California company said it applied to the Montana Secretary of State this week to incorporate the local subsidiary that would run the jail. Agency spokeswoman Terri Knapp said that had not happened as of late Friday, but added that the paperwork on the application still could be working its way through the system.

The $27 million in bonds used to build the jail went into default last year. Peterson said the 10-year contract would not fully repay that debt, but that the bonds would be covered if the California company exercises its option for an additional 10 years.

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