BILLINGS – A California attorney who worked with a fledgling security company to take over an empty jail in rural Montana has cut his ties to the project.
Santa Ana attorney Maziar Mafi had served as the legal affairs director for American Police Force. His departure follows revelations earlier in the week that the company’s lead figure — Michael Hilton — is a convicted felon with a history of fraud and failed business dealings in California.
Hilton’s company reached a deal last month with officials in Hardin, Mont., to operate the city’s jail, which has never been used since its 2007 completion.
That contract has yet to be ratified by US Bank, which has a stake in the jail as trustee for $27 million in construction bonds used to pay for the 464-bed facility.
Mafi said he wanted to see the project begin to move forward before he could continue his involvement.
“For the time I’m pulling out,” Mafi said Friday. “I need to see more concrete action before I can be involved.”
Mafi declined to elaborate on his reasons for leaving.
But Alex Friedmann with the Private Corrections Institute — a group that has long been critical of Hardin for building a jail that would be privately run — suggested it was a sign the project is doomed to failure.
“He sees the ship is going down and he wants to not be on that ship when it sinks,” Friedmann said.
No money has changed hands between Hardin and American Police Force. Hardin Mayor Ron Adams said Friday that despite his reservations about the project, he would still like to see it go forward so the city can fill its jail.
Hilton has said he would bring more than 200 new jobs to the struggling community, through the jail and a military and law enforcement training center he pledged to build.
Mafi’s involvement began last month, when Hilton brought him on about the same time he reached an agreement with Hardin’s Two Rivers Authority, which owns the jail.
Hilton, who claims an extensive military background and calls himself “captain,” initially described Mafi as a “major” in American Police Force. He later said Mafi was the company’s president, although Mafi denied he played such a role.
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