Jail firm’s legacy: ‘Account frozen’

Despite bounced check, B&B owner says APF’s Hilton was charming
2009-10-13T22:45:00Z Jail firm’s legacy: ‘Account frozen’ED KEMMICK Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
October 13, 2009 10:45 pm  • 

In announcing the suspension of a state investigation into American Police Force on Tuesday, state Attorney General Steve Bullock said he was "unaware of any Montanans who have been harmed financially by this company."

Meet Marcianna Smith.

She is the owner of the Kendrick House Inn at 206 N. Custer Ave. in Hardin, a bed-and-breakfast where Michael Hilton and several other people associated with American Police Force stayed in late September.

Smith said a check Hilton wrote to her for "about $1,000" has bounced. It came back with "account frozen" stamped on it, she said Tuesday. In addition to staying at the B&B, Hilton invited a lot of people to breakfast and put the bill on his tab.

Even so, Smith finds it hard to be angry with Hilton.

"He was very charming," she said. "I just find it hard to read what I've read and believe it was the same person."

What she read were press reports showing that Hilton, who incorporated APF last spring, was sentenced to two years in California prison in 1993 after pleading guilty to 14 felonies, including grand theft, attempted grand theft and diversion of construction funds. The Serbian-born Hilton also used at least a dozen aliases.

Last week, after a succession of damaging revelations about his background and his unraveling organization were published, Hilton announced that he was abandoning efforts to lease and operate Hardin's $27 million jail, which has sat empty since it was built two years ago.

Officials with the Two Rivers Authority, the city's economic development arm and the entity that built the jail, had insisted for weeks that Hardin had nothing to lose because Hilton wasn't asking for any money up front.

Smith, for her part, thought Hilton was a good man and a good client. She said he stayed at her B&B for a couple of days in August and paid in cash, so when he asked to write a check for his stay in September, when he rented the whole establishment for him and his associates for three or four days, she didn't think she had any reason to worry.

Smith said she was particularly taken with Hilton on his first visit, when he was accompanied by his father, "a dear, sweet little man."

"They were very nice to me. I enjoyed their company. He kissed my cat every morning," she said, referring to Michael Hilton. She said Hilton loved to talk about his own pets and was very kind to Ying-Yang, her Siamese.

"He kissed my cat," Smith said again later. "I just loved that. We talked about his mother's love of cats - she had 40 of them."

She said Hilton's father spoke broken English, using only nouns, "the way I speak Spanish."

Smith said she doesn't have any idea how to go about collecting from Hilton, and she's not particularly upset.

"For some reason, I'm not holding any ill will," she said.

Smith said she hadn't heard from any other Hardin businesspeople who took bad checks from Hilton, but she did talk to one business owner who altered a pair of pants for Hilton and wanted to know where to send them. Smith said she didn't know.

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