HELENA - Hardin leaders have considered using their never-opened jail as an enormous indoor greenhouse for medical marijuana, a fight site for paintball or as low-income housing, according to documents released Friday and gathered as part an ongoing state Justice Department investigation.
According to minutes from meetings of the Two Rivers Authority, the economic development arm of the city of Hardin, jail leaders this summer were considering leasing the 464-bed prison out as a setting for paintball fights or as a place to grow marijuana even as they were discussing turning the place over to American Police Force.
APF frontman Michael Hilton had evidently been in "daily contact" with Greg Smith, head of the authority who has since resigned. He told Smith that APF, which apparently was formed in California in March, provided security for several cruise ships and was interested in building a 1,000-bed "supermax" prison in Hardin.
The documents were released Friday along with more than 100 other pages of information gathered by Attorney General Steve Bullock, who last week launched an investigation into APF and requested information from Two Rivers about its relationship with the secretive California company.
The documents shed light on the atmosphere surrounding the group's decision to sign a contract with APF and Hilton, who apparently gave himself the rank of "captain." That deal, which was never finalized, unraveled almost as quickly as it came together under revelations that many of the things Hilton said about the company were untrue and that he had a criminal record and owed more than $1 million in civil judgments for fraud.
Hardin built the jail in hopes of bringing jobs to the hardscrabble town. Yet Two Rivers had no contracts in place to house inmates there, and no county, state or federal law enforcement agency said it needed the jail after it was completed two years ago. Several law enforcement officials said the jail could not safely house prisoners.
APF on Friday announced that it was leaving Hardin for good, although some, including Gov. Brian Schweitzer, questioned if the outfit was ever legitimate.
Two Rivers quickly dismissed the idea of using the prison as a greenhouse to grow medical marijuana, meeting minutes show.
"This is an image we just cannot bring to Hardin," according to minutes from the group's July 6 meeting.
They also discussed selling the jail, potentially to be used as low-income housing.
However, those ideas were not considered as APF emerged as the most likely way to make money from the jail.
"This is a serious deal," read the meeting minutes of Aug. 24.