October 31, 2009 in City

Man in failed jail deal tells court he’s broke

Con artist said he had backing for takeover
Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Michael Hilton stands outside Hardin, Mont., city offices last month.
(Full-size photo)

BILLINGS – The California con man who failed in his bid to take over an empty Montana jail testified Friday he has no money, none of the corporate backing he once claimed and no law enforcement or military experience.

Michael Hilton appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court about a 2000 civil judgment against him now estimated at $700,000, KULR-TV reported on its Web site.

Hilton had insisted in multiple interviews that his bid to take over a 464-bed jail in Hardin had backing from deep-pocketed security industry investors who wanted to remain anonymous.

But Hilton testified Friday he has no money, no employment and no one working for him and is four months behind on his rent, Cris Armenta, the plaintiff’s attorney, told the Associated Press on Friday.

Rick Earnhart, the plaintiff, said he lost more than $175,000 in two schemes perpetrated by Hilton in the 1990s.

Hilton did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment.

Hilton also acknowledged never having the corporate backing he claimed. Instead, he said he had just four investors who put up a combined $100,000 toward the project.

Hilton earlier claimed it would cost at least $17 million.

Hardin economic development officials signed a contract with Hilton in September to operate the jail and fill it with inmates.

But the deal collapsed after media revelations about Hilton’s criminal background.

The 55-year-old spent several years in prison in California on grand theft charges and has at least three civil judgments against him for fraudulent investment schemes.

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