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Hardin jail entrepreneur has checkered past

• Helena Air

"It's a solid deal. That's all I'll say," he said.

But a representative of a corrections advocacy group that has been critical of Hardin's jail and has investigated Hilton's past said city leaders dropped the ball.

"I'm amazed that city officials didn't do basic research that would have raised significant questions about American Private Police Force and Mr. Hilton's background," said Alex Friedmann, vice president of the Private Corrections Institute.

Hilton, 55, uses the title "captain" when introducing himself and on his business cards. But he acknowledged it was not a military rank.

He said he is naturalized U.S. citizen and native of Montenegro. Aliases for Hilton that appear in court documents include Miodrag Dokovich, Michael Hamilton, Hristian Djokich and Michael Djokovich.

One attorney who dealt with Hilton in a fraud lawsuit referred to him as a "chameleon" and said he has a reputation for winning people over with his charm.

His criminal record goes back to at least 1988, when Hilton was arrested in Santa Ana, Calif. for writing bad checks.

Beginning in 1993, Hilton spent six years in prison in California on a dozen counts of grand theft and other charges including illegal diversion of construction funds.

The charges included stealing $20,000 in a real estate swindle in which Hilton convinced an associate to give him a deed on property in Long Beach, Calif., ostensibly as collateral on a loan. Hilton turned around and sold the property to another party but was caught when the buyer contacted the original owner.

After his release, he got entangled in at least three civil lawsuits alleging fraud or misrepresentation. Those included luring investors to sink money into gold and silver collectible coins; posing as a fine arts dealer in Utah in order to convince a couple to give him a $100,000 silver statue; and, in the case involving co-defendant Carella, seeking investors for an assisted living complex in Southern California that was never built.

Carella said he was duped 

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