Warrant Out for Man Who Tried to Take Over Hardin Jail

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – An arrest warrant was issued Thursday in California for a convicted felon who earlier tried to take over a Montana jail, according to an attorney.

Michael Hilton is the lead figure of American Police Force, a Santa Ana, Calif.-company that tried unsuccessfully to take over a 464-bed jail in Hardin.

Hilton had been ordered to appear before a Los Angeles superior court judge on Thursday in a separate case, a 2000 civil fraud lawsuit. One of the plaintiffs in that case, Richard Earnhart of Riverside, Calif., has a judgment against Hilton estimated at $700,000.

Earnhart’s attorney, Cris Armenta, said Superior Court Judge Andrew Kauffman issued a bench warrant for Hilton’s arrest after he failed to appear.

Hilton is a convicted felon who spent at least three years in prison on grand theft charges.

He came to Montana over the summer promising to pay the rural city’s economic development agency more than $2.6 million annually to operate its empty jail.

Hardin officials — desperate to fill a facility that has been empty since its 2007 completion, signed a contract with Hilton without investigating his background.

The contract was never ratified by a bank that is the trustee on $27 million in bonds used to build the jail. The deal fell apart following media revelations about Hilton’s history of fraud and a subsequent investigation by the Montana attorney general’s office.

In the Los Angeles case, Hilton convinced Earnhart and other investors to sink money into an elder care project that was never built. During Thursday’s hearing, Earnhart’s attorney had planned to ask Hilton about his income and assets in a bid to satisfy the judgment against him.

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