To be honest, I am a little disappointed to report this news. I was enjoying my time laughing at the American Private Police Force stories and their copyright infringements. But, perhaps it is for the best. Some surprising news came from the Associated Press last Friday regarding Michael Hilton, the newest and sketchiest American prison industry opportunist. In a story by AP writer, Matthew Brown, Mr. Hilton admits what everyone suspected was already the case. “The California con man who failed in his bid to take over an empty Montana jail testified Friday that he is out of money, does not have the corporate backing he once claimed and even struggles to pay rent on his apartment” (AP). Not only is he personally out of money, but the APPF account is already $2,000 overdrawn after wasting a $100,000 investment from four different private investors — one of whom was Hilton’s girlfriend.
“With no other job, Hilton said he has dismissed his few employees and is now four months behind on his rent. ‘I’m out of the game. I’m done,’ he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press following his court appearance. ‘All the expenses – the payroll, the rent, traveling – I paid all these'”(AP). If you have been following the APPF story here, you will remember how the one employee in the prison has to ask the city of Hardin for the keys every morning to open the jail. She was also given a house and a company car as a signing bonus for joining with APPF, which were most likely paid out-of-pocket by Hilton, not the company itself.
All of this was uncovered as he was in court for a 2000 civil case with the plaintiff seeking $700,000 in fraud damages from Hilton. “according to a lawyer for the building contractor in the 2000 case, as reported by the Billings Gazette, Hilton also testified that he had no experience, training or licensing for police or prison work, and that APPF had no parent company and no other staff. Hilton had previously represented to Hardin that his company was an established security contractor active in all 50 states and working with the U.S. government. Hilton also said that back in July, he told Greg Smith, then the head of Hardin’s economic development arm, about his criminal past, and was told it wouldn’t be a problem. Smith, who led the effort to work with Hilton, was put on administrative leave in September, for reasons that have not been made public” (TPM).
There are two important lessons that Hardin, Montana should learn from this experience. The first: never speculatively build a prison and expect that prisoners will fill it. If you absolutely must construct a new facility, make sure that it is necessary and that there is a demand (and that you can actually legally import out-of-state prisoners, as Montana can not). Both of these criteria are seemingly obvious enough, but with the rise in popularity of private prisons, many counties and states are building a “field of dreams” for prison companies, building it and hoping “they” will come. The second lesson: do some research on who you are signing a contract with. If dedicated bloggers over at TPM Muckracker and Private Corrections Institute are able to do the job that a whole economics bureau can not, maybe its time to seek some new employees — or start trusting the independent media. Nick Lough from TPM and Frank Smith from PCI (and their teams) both did excellent jobs in uncovering this story before Hilton even had a chance to admit that he was lying. Everyone had a feeling this was the case, and last Friday we finally had closure from this fraudulent make-believe company. I hope this is the last we hear from Michael Hilton and the American Private Police Force, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he tried this again, as APPF was not his first venture. We will all be watching and waiting, and if he does try to start something again, I hope it is as humorous as his last attempt.