Criminal cases against former Crosby Mayor James Hunter, who was arrested two years ago, continue with court rulings in his favor.
Hunter-initially charged with four felonies of second-degree assault, theft by swindle, receiving stolen property and unlawful gambling; and a gross misdemeanor for selling vehicle financing without a license-was acquitted for a third time Friday, March 23, by a Crow Wing County jury.
Hunter's charges were tried separately in Crow Wing County District Court in Brainerd with each charge addressed individually by three jury trials to date.
Last year, the 70-year-old Crosby man was acquitted by a Crow Wing County jury in two separate trials, where he was found not guilty of second-degree assault and theft by swindle. The third felony of receiving stolen property-a firearm-was dismissed last November when the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the charge.
Hunter again sat in a Brainerd courtroom last week-Wednesday, March 20, through Friday-for a third jury trial on the unlawful gambling charge. Before the trial began, Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan, whose office prosecuted the case, amended the felony gambling fraud count down to a gross misdemeanor and added a misdemeanor gambling charge. The gross misdemeanor charge has a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine, or both.
Shaw said the trial wrapped up at 5:30 p.m. Friday and the jury came back with its decision at 7 p.m. The Crow Wing County jury found Hunter not guilty Friday on the amended charges.
"All four felonies have been disposed of and that is quite significant," Shaw said Monday in a telephone interview. "When four felonies are charged out against someone and to not see one conviction come out of that is extremely unusual. These are four charges that never should have been brought."
Shaw said the first red flag in the case was when the Crosby Police Department investigated its own mayor. Shaw said the standard practice is to have a different agency handle any investigation of an elected official.
"The leadership of the Crosby Police Department provides the department with a lot of fine officers," Shaw said. "But the leadership there had an ulterior motive and that is what this is all about. That is why these four felonies have gotten nowhere."
Crosby Police Chief Kim Coughlin said when the police department receives information on any criminal activity, it takes action and investigates.
"We will aggressively investigate any criminal activity and we will continue to do so," Coughlin said Monday. "We will continue to work with the county attorney's office to prosecute crimes. That is our job."
Ryan said he accepts the jury's acquittal because he fully supports the criminal justice process and believes in the process of having a jury of the defendant's peers hear and decide the verdict of a case.
Ryan, however, didn't necessarily agree with the outcome.
"I do not understand the verdict in this instance," Ryan said Monday. "I thought the state's case was credible and the defense's case was not. This is not meant for me to have sour grapes. I just don't understand the verdict in this instance."
Ryan said the residents of Crow Wing County are "very astute and conscientious, but sometimes we have differences of opinions."
The remaining charge pending against Hunter is a gross misdemeanor accusing Hunter of improperly engaging in the business of a sales finance company in the state without a license.
According to the complaint filed against Hunter, he owns a used sales vehicle lot. A woman said she purchased a vehicle from Hunter and he charged her a $400 fee to cover financing and document fees. Minnesota law only allows a document fee loan of $75 per transaction and Hunter does not have a finance license and cannot charge interest on a loan, the complaint stated. Five bills of sale were provided to Crosby police prior to the search warrants being executed. In each bill of sale, Hunter charged a $400 fee.
When authorities arrested Hunter in 2017, he was the mayor of Crosby. He was elected in November 2016 for a two-year term as Crosby mayor. After his arrest, he continued serving as the mayor until he resigned in August 2017. Hunter ran for mayor last fall, but lost in the Nov. 6, 2018, election.
The arrests occurred after Thomas McCartan went to Crosby police on July 26, 2016, and disclosed a number of alleged illegal actions, including financial fraud and assault by Hunter.
McCartan accused Hunter of swindling $90,000. McCartan told police his wife, Candice McCartan and Hunter convinced him to purchase Buy Sell Trade, one of Hunter's businesses, on 2 E. Main St. in Crosby. His wife was working for Hunter at Buy Sell Trade for about two years at the time, the charges said.
Hunter's pitch was that owning the store would be steady income, and it would help fix the McCartans' credit problems, according to the criminal complaint. Hunter allegedly got Thomas McCartan to believe the store made between $8,000 and $12,000 a month in revenue.
Hunter also reportedly told Thomas McCartan the sale price was $45,000. But several days later, after Thomas McCartan signed the sale documents, he found out he was actually required to pay Hunter $90,000 via a lien placed on his home.
As Thomas McCartan was divorcing Candice McCartan, his divorce attorney examined the sale documents, and it turned out what Thomas McCartan actually bought was the inventory of the store, some computers, the cash register and the ATM machine. The value of the purchase was between $5,000 and $7,000, his attorney told him-a far cry from the $90,000 he was supposed to pay.
Hunter was acquitted last year of the theft by swindle charge.
The domestic assault charge against Hunter stemmed from an incident on Sept. 24, 2016, with McCartans' son. Hunter also was found not guilty of this assault. According to the complaint, McCartan's son approached a vehicle to talk to his mother through the driver's side window, as she was in the passenger's seat and Hunter was in the driver's seat. The conversation became argumentative and the son observed Hunter drawing a pistol from the center console, holding it in his lap and pointing it at the son, with his finger on the trigger, the complaint stated. The son was afraid he would be shot so he quickly got into his vehicle and left.
According to court documents, the only dispute with the incident is whether Hunter aimed the gun at the victim through the door of the vehicle with his finger on the trigger. Candice McCartan corroborated much of the incident in the report to law enforcement and stated Hunter had a handgun in the vehicle and also had it in his lap, but denied he pointed it at her son.
The dismissed charge concerning receiving stolen property stems from search warrants executed to search Hunter's home, business, bank and vehicle. A pistol was located inside the console of a vehicle and another semi-automatic pistol was found in the store, which was reported stolen.