A jury Wednesday, June 27, acquitted former Crosby Mayor James Hunter of a charge of felony theft by swindle.
Hunter's jury trial began Monday in Crow Wing County District Court in Brainerd. He was arrested in 2017 and charged with four felonies-theft by swindle, second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon, receiving stolen property and lawful gambling fraud-and gross misdemeanor of motor vehicle retail installment sales of engaging in business of sales without a license.
The jury trial of eight women and four men addressed only the felony theft by swindle charge. Hunter was elected in November 2016 for a two-year term as Crosby mayor. He was arrested four months later in March 2017. He handed in his resignation as mayor in August 2017.
After less than a two-and-a-half day trial, the jury was released by Judge Earl E. Maus at 10:14 a.m. Wednesday to deliberate. They returned in less than an hour with a not guilty verdict.
Hunter, in a gray suit jacket and blue jeans, sat next to his attorney, Ed Shaw of Brainerd, as the verdict was read. Crow Wing County Assistant Attorney Candace Prigge prosecuted the case. The courtroom gallery included Crosby Police Chief Kim Coughlin, Crosby Police Lt. Kevin Randolph, Crosby City Administrator/Manager Lisa Sova and court employees.
Judge Maus accepted the verdict and asked the attorneys how they wanted to proceed with the other charges Hunter faces, specifically the assault charge. No dates were set for Hunter's next court appearance but Maus agreed to keep conditions of release the same for Hunter, including no contact with the victim, Thomas McCartan.
"My client does not intend to have contact with Mr. McCartan," Shaw said.
After the court hearing, Shaw said he and Hunter were pleased with the verdict.
"Justice was done," Shaw said. "This case should have never been brought. There were a lot of people with ulterior motives involved in this. The (Crosby) police chief was here two or three days, the city admin from Crosby and a lot of invested parties were here. It's a free country, it's public court and anyone can be here, but they are taking quite an interest, more than (they) typically (should)."
As Hunter still faces criminal charges, Prigge declined to comment on the verdict.
The city of Crosby, in an emailed release, stated: "The Crosby Police Department takes its responsibility to address concerns and complaints from residents very seriously. The department and the City of Crosby will continue to serve our community with the utmost integrity, and we are fully committed to the safety and wellbeing of our residents. We respect the verdict of the jury and understand their job is a difficult one. Beyond that, the court has ordered both parties not to comment due to additional criminal charges still pending."
The criminal charges filed in Crow Wing County Court in March 2017 against Hunter weaved allegations of a love affair intertwined with an illegal financial scheme, culminating in confrontation and gunplay. Together with alleged lover and accomplice Candice Ann McCartan, Hunter reportedly ran a confidence trick against her husband, a criminal complaint stated.
Thomas McCartan reported Hunter for a number of alleged crimes, chiefly the swindling of $90,000.
Thomas McCartan told police that his wife and Hunter convinced him to purchase Buy Sell Trade, one of Hunter's businesses, on 2 East Main St. in Crosby. Candice McCartan had been working for Hunter at Buy Sell Trade for about two years, the charges said.
Hunter's pitch was that owning the store would be steady income, and that it would help fix their credit problems, according to the criminal complaint. Hunter allegedly got Thomas McCartan to believe the store made $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 had already 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 had 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.
The domestic assault charge against Hunter stems from an incident on Sept. 24, 2016, with the McCartans' son. The son approached a vehicle to talk to his mother through the driver's side window, as she was in the passenger's seat. The conversation became argumentative and the son observed Hunter drawing a pistol from the center console, hold it in his lap and pointed it at him, 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. She stated, "James Hunter had a handgun in the vehicle and also had it in his lap, but denied pointing it at two male subjects (the son had a friend who was on site, who may have not seen inside the vehicle.)."
The defense argues various reasons why the court should determine the son's account is not credible as he at one time states the gun was pointed at him and a second time said it wasn't.