MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press Writer BILLINGS
Montana legislators said Tuesday they want to know more about a secretive California company that wants to take over an empty jail in the southeastern corner of the state and build a military training center on adjacent property. The company, American Police Force, has attracted widespread attention with its plans but won't reveal its backers or where it would get prisoners for the jail, located in the rural city of Hardin. With Hardin officials also saying little about the company, rumors have flourished. On a Web site run by rightwing radio show host Alex Jones, a posting claimed that employees of American Police Force had "occupied" the city and started patrolling its streets. Montana Rep. Bob Ebinger said more rumors were likely until Hardin and the company provide more details. "Always when things are secretive, you end up getting everybody on both the right and the left making suppositions about what's going on," said Ebinger, a Democrat from Livingston. Ebinger and other members of the Legislature's Law and Justice Committee said they would ask Hardin officials to provide more information about the company. In addition to taking over the 464-bed, $27 million jail, the company has said it will sink $17 million into a military training center and is seeking 5,000 acres or more for a live-fire training ground. Company spokeswoman Becky Shay said there were no plans to reveal the project's financial backers. "We're still sitting tight," said Shay, who took the job with American Police Force last week after abruptly leaving the Billings Gazette, where she had written extensively about the jail over the last several years. Hardin built the jail two years ago as an economic development project but was never able to find any prisoners. Its agreement with American Police Force worth at least $2.6 million a year has yet to be validated by U.S. Bank, the trustee on the construction bonds used to pay for the facility. Those bonds went into default in May 2008.