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In response to growing criticism and suspicion, American Police Force has changed its name, changed its logo and altered several areas of its website in an attempt to “diffuse tension” surrounding the private paramilitary organization that wants to take over law enforcement duties while bossing a $27 million dollar detention facility in Hardin, Montana.
Following threats of legal action on behalf of the government of Serbia against APF for using a near copy of the Serbian Coat of Arms, on Sunday the logo was changed although it still remains a double-headed eagle, which is widely accept
APF’s founder, Michael Hilton, who ascribes himself the title “Captain” and speaks with an eastern European accent, has been at the center of the controversy after initially refusing to reveal his surname to reporters or even officials he was negotiating contracts with.
It has now emerged that “Michael Hilton” is merely the latest incarnation of a man previously known as Miodrag Dokovich, Michael Hamilton, Hristian Djokich and Michael Djokovich.
Hilton, who was born in the south-eastern European country Montenegro, is a “convicted felon with a number of aliases, a string of legal judgments against him, two bankruptcies and a decades-long reputation for deals gone bad,” according to an Associated Press report.
Al Peterson, vice president of Hardin's Two Rivers Authority, which built the jail, declined to comment on Hilton's legal troubles. He refused to say if he knew about Hilton's past when the authority reached a 10-year agreement with American Police Force last month.
The deal is worth more than $2.6 million a year, according to city leaders.
Hilton has also pledged to build a $17 million military and law enforcement training center. And he's promised to dispatch security to patrol Hardin's streets, build an animal shelter and a homeless shelter and offer free health care to city resident's out of the jail's clinic.
Michael Hilton pitched himself to officials in Hardin, Mont. as a military veteran turned private sector entrepreneur, a California defense contractor with extensive government contracts who promised to turn the rural city's empty jail into a cash cow.
Hardin's leaders were desperate to fill the $27 million jail, which has sat empty since its 2007 completion.
So when Hilton came to town last week — wearing a military-style uniform and offering three Mercedes SUVs for use by local law enforcement — he was greeted with hugs by some grateful residents. The promise of more than 200 new jobs for a community struggling long before the recession hit had won them over.
But public documents and interviews with Hilton's associates and legal adversaries offer a different picture, that of a convicted felon with a number of aliases, a string of legal judgments against him, two bankruptcies and a decades-long reputation for deals gone bad.
American Police Force is the company Hilton formed in March to take over the Hardin jail.
"Such schemes you cannot believe," said Joseph Carella, an Orange County, Calif. doctor and co-defendant with Hilton in a real estate fraud case that resulted in a civil judgment against Hilton and several others.
"The guy's brilliant. If he had been able to do honest work, he probably would have been a gazillionaire," Carella said.
Court documents show Hilton has outstanding judgments against him in three civil cases totaling more than $1.1 million.
As for Hilton's military expertise, including his claim to have advised forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, those interviewed knew of no such feats. Instead, Hilton was described alternately by those who know him as an arts dealer, cook, restaurant owner, land developer, loan broker and car salesman — always with a moneymaking scheme in the works.