Alleged con man too sick to forfeit assets

2009-11-02T17:00:00Z Alleged con man too sick to forfeit assetsBy JENNIFER McKEE Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette
November 02, 2009 5:00 pm  • 

HELENA - Michael Hilton, a California con man who aspired to run a never-opened jail in Hardin, failed Monday to turn over what he said are now his only assets: Four pieces of art, including a self-portrait.

The art is to be auctioned off to satisfy part of a $700,000 judgment against him from an older real-estate fraud case in California.

Hilton testified last week in a California courtroom that the works, including two of his own creation and two stereographs now hanging in his bedroom, are his only assets.

Hilton told Cris Armenta, the lawyer for Rick Earnhart, a defrauded building contractor, that he was sick with the flu Monday and couldn't take the works to her office.

Under oath in a California courtroom, Hilton said Friday he would bring the pieces to Armenta's law office Monday to avoid having a sheriff's deputy come to his home and seize them.

Armenta said Monday she was willing to give Hilton one more day.

"I'm optimistic that he will show," she said.

Hilton and the American Private Police Force company he started this spring had negotiated to run the Two Rivers Detention Center in Hardin. The 464-bed lockup was built by the economic development arm of the city of Hardin, but has never opened.

The $27 million in bonds sold to build the jail have since gone into to default.

This fall, Hardin officials announced they had a deal with Hilton to open the jail and expand the site to include a private security training area, homeless shelter and free food to hungry Hardin residents.

The deal fell apart after it was revealed that much of what Hilton said about himself and his company was false and that Hilton, a Montenegro native, had an extensive criminal past.

Hilton appeared in California state court on Friday to talk about the would-be deal with Hardin and to ascertain if the Two Rivers contract, which was never finalized, might have produced some revenue for Hilton.

Hilton owes $1.1 million from fraud judgments in California.

He said Friday he had no money and that American Private Police Force had an overdrawn bank account.

Hilton said he had four works of art as assets. Two were his own work: A self-portrait and one entitled "Mother Theresa."

Hilton, who described himself as a commission painter, testified that his two paintings were about 4 feet high and hanging in a defunct APF office that the company had stopped paying rent on.

He said he had two other artworks, stereographs of a leopard and a tiger by the Santa Barbara, Calif., artist Rick Garcia.

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