Hilton claims no assets

Con man testifies in California hearing that APF has no officers or parent company
2009-10-30T13:30:00Z Hilton claims no assetsRUFFIN PREVOST Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
October 30, 2009 1:30 pm  • 

Michael Hilton told leaders in Hardin that he would not only fill a vacant, 464-bed detention center with prisoners, but that his American Police Force also would set up a forensics lab, provide computers to local schools, start a homeless shelter and even deliver meals to the hungry.

Hilton, 55, boasted that a long-established parent company with extensive global resources would allow APF to bring jobs and public revenue to Hardin.

Under oath on Friday in California Superior Court of Los Angeles, Hilton told attorney Cris Armenta a very different story.

"He presented himself as someone who was basically destitute," said Armenta, who is seeking to recover nearly $700,000 that Hilton owes her client, building contractor Rick Earnhart, following a May 2000 civil judgment for fraud.

"What he told me is that American Private Police Force has no assets ... He indicated on a personal level that he has no assets, no bank account, no money," and is four months behind on his rent, she said.

Hilton, a native of Montenegro, is a felon convicted of multiple counts of grand theft who has used more than a dozen aliases and has a long history of fraud and deceit.

The self-styled "captain" testified that he raised nearly $100,000 from four investors to launch APF, but that he had no experience, training or licensing for police or prison work, Armenta said.

She said that Hilton testified that APF had no parent company, no other officers and had issued no shares.

Armenta said that Hilton testified that APF was $2,000 overdrawn on its corporate bank account, has no current employees, and never paid any employees in Montana, including former spokeswoman Becky Shay, who has said "I was compensated."

Neither Shay nor Hilton responded Friday to messages seeking comment.

A judge on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for Hilton after he failed to show up for a scheduled court hearing, but Armenta said she held off on seeking to enforce the warrant based on Hilton's promise to answer questions Friday.

Earnhart said he remained doubtful about ever collecting from Hilton, but added that he took some satisfaction in forcing the colorful con man to answer questions.

Earnhart said that he got into a heated exchange with Hilton in front of the courthouse on Friday, and declined to shake Hilton's hand, calling him a thief.

Maziar Mafi, an APF investor, said he was surprised to hear of Hilton's sworn testimony.

"I am in actual shock," said Mafi, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based attorney who gave Hilton $35,000 and signed as a guarantor for the lease of two Mercedes SUVs for the company, a move that he said will cost him an additional $30,000 to get out of.

Mafi said that his surprise came not from the news that Hilton was insolvent and that APF was never much more than a Web site, but that Hilton actually testified to that effect.

"I don't blame anybody more in this deal than I blame myself. I'm the one who needs to watch out for me, and I didn't do that," Mafi said.

Armenta said that the only assets of any value that Hilton claimed were four works of art - two stereographs by the artist Rick Garcia, and two paintings by Hilton himself.

Hilton agreed to deliver the artworks on Monday, Armenta said, adding that she plans to auction them on behalf of Earnhart.

Contact Ruffin Prevost at rprevost@billingsgazette.com or 307-527-7250.

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