BILLINGS – Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock has dropped his investigation into a California company following its attempted takeover of an empty Montana jail.
The company, American Police Force, had missed a Monday deadline to provide documents sought by Bullock’s office after revelations that company founder Michael Hilton had a lengthy criminal background.
But because American Police Force has pulled out of its bid to take over the 464-bed jail in rural Hardin, Bullock said Tuesday he was ending the investigation.
“Because I’m unaware of any Montanans who have been harmed financially by this company, our goal has been achieved and we have suspended our inquiry,” he said.
Bullock added that Hilton’s failure to answer questions about the project “speaks volumes about his company’s legitimacy.”
Assistant Attorney General James Molloy had issued a demand Oct. 1 for American Police Force to turn over its tax records; lists of customers; names of company employees, owners and officers; and other information.
The information was sought under a Montana law barring unfair or deceptive business practices. Hilton, who spent time in prison in California in the 1990s, has a history of fraudulent dealings and at least $1.1 million in outstanding civil judgments against him.
In response, Hilton sent a one-page fax to the Montana attorney general’s office late Monday. The fax said the company was no longer pursuing the project and would not be answering the information requested by Molloy, said Becky Shay, spokeswoman for Hilton’s Santa Ana, Calif.-company.
“It outlines that APF (American Police Force) was only in contract negotiations, did not do business in Hardin and has pulled out of contract negotiations,” said Shay.
Hilton has never disclosed who backed his Hardin proposal, offering only verbal assurances that he had the financial support needed to operate the jail.
Without checking into his background, Hardin officials initially embraced his proposal and signed onto a contract with Hilton. That agreement was never approved by a bank acting as trustee for the construction bonds used to build the $27 million jail.
After Hilton’s background became known, the city’s economic development authority backed away from the deal, and its executive director resigned.
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