Jail Project in Hardin Begins to Unravel; Man Promising Prisoners is Wanted in Wyoming

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A California company's bid to take over an empty jail in rural Montana appears to be unraveling. An attorney involved in the project cut ties Friday and a second company once named as a subcontractor denied any involvement.

Those moves followed revelations earlier in the week that Michael Hilton, the lead figure of the company American Police Force, is a convicted felon with a history of fraud and failed business dealings in California. The company reached a deal last month with officials in Hardin to operate more than 200 new jobs to the struggling community.

Rumors continue to circulate in Hardin and on the Internet that American Police Force was backed by an unknown government agency with plans to use the jail as a detention or training center for foreign combatants. But Governor Brian Schweitzer on Friday dismissed the notion of any secretive government scheme.

Court records from Orange County, California indicate Michael Hilton has a lengthy criminal past including a six year prison sentence for a dozen counts of grand theft and other charges. After his release from prison court documents indicate he was entangled in at least three civil lawsuits alleging fraud or misrepresentation.

And Billings television station KULR learned Thursday there's a warrant out for Hilton's arrest in Wyoming. Sheridan Circuit Court judge John Sampson issued a warrant September 1st. A court clerk says he was ticketed for driving with a suspended driver's license on Interstate 90 in Sheridan on August 15th. The arrest warrant was issued after he failed to appear in court.

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