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The mayor, the gravedigger and the shopkeeper: How 1 business deal in Crosby altered 3 lives

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Tom McCartan sits next to his dog Deebo during an interview at his home. Kelly Humphrey / Forum News Service2 / 4
Crosby Mayor Jim Hunter (center) is pictured during a meeting in Crosby, Minn. File Photo3 / 4
Crosby Mayor Jim Hunter, left.4 / 4

CROSBY, Minn. — Tom McCartan dropped out of high school his senior year to become a landscaper, and eventually began working as a gravedigger. It's a profession he took up for 30 years.

When interviewed, he had mud from Hibbing on his pants from a day at work for Brown-Wilbert in Aitkin, a company that installs concrete burial vaults. He also had the front door to his house barricaded in order to prevent another break-in.

McCartan moved to Crosby in 2013 after a motorcycle accident, using his 401(k) account to buy a house on Oak Street. But now he's abandoning that life, after his report to the police sparked the arrest on felony assault and swindle charges of the mayor of Crosby, James Jesse Hunter, who goes by "Jim." McCartan termed Hunter "a two-bit dime-store hood."

"He's ruined all our lives," McCartan said.

Not unlike Tom McCartan, Jim Hunter once was also in the business of dead people. During an interview, he recalled how he worked for the city of Holly, Colo., as the deputy coroner as well as transporting prisoners.

He said his old duty weapon, a Smith and Wesson .357 magnum revolver, which he had hung in a holster by his bedside, was seized by the police although it never subsequently showed up on their inventory lists. Authorities have also seized $30,000 in civil forfeiture, alleging it was the proceeds of illegal gambling, he said. Hunter's defense attorney, Ed Shaw, said McCartan was a noncredible witness, an "angry, abusive, potentially violent guy."

"I can see why his wife left him," Shaw said. "The only question is, why didn't it happen sooner. At some point, Tom McCartan has to take responsibility for that instead of blaming everyone else for why his marriage went south."

The attorney for Candice McCartan, Tom's former wife, denied access to her for a media interview. However, she was interviewed by Crosby Police March 10, the same day Hunter was arrested. She also dropped out of high school, reaching the ninth grade. When her interviewer, Lt. Kevin Randolph of the Crosby Police Department, asked her if she had an affair with Hunter, she said no. The two had only kissed once, she said.

"He was having some issues in his personal life and I was having issues and it happened," she said. "And after it happened, we both agreed that ... can't go any further than that."

The whole story of Tom, Candice, and Jim involves dozens of guns, marijuana, several alleged felonies, a love triangle, politics, and small-town America.

Rising tensions

Tom McCartan initially met Hunter when Candice began working for Hunter at Buy, Sell, Trade in Crosby two years prior, he said. Candice was supposed to be fired last summer because Hunter's wife, Jan, found out she was buying or selling marijuana in the store, McCartan said.

Hunter partially corroborated this by saying Candice had facilitated the sale of marijuana from Tom.

Hunter gave her a choice: buy the business or get fired for the marijuana incident.

"I talked to (Candice) and I said, '(Candice), I can't have that. Can't have that at the business. So ... I'm either going to have to let you go, or I'll give you the opportunity to buy the business," he said. "Because it was just me, I wasn't going to run the business. I was just either going to close it or sell it.

He later added there was nothing coercive about the way he presented the options to Candice.

Then, Tom McCartan recalled, Hunter appeared in McCartan's backyard with a proposition: The McCartans could buy the business outright from Hunter.

"I was kind of hesitant," McCartan said. "But he made it sound like it was such a profitable business ... they said we could get out of debt, it would be good money for the kids."

Candice told police she felt buying the business would improve her relationship with Tom.

The McCartans closed on the deal June 30, 2016, McCartan said. But he didn't have enough money to cover a down payment on Hunter's price — $90,000. So he agreed to let Hunter put a lien on his and Candice's house on Oak Street in Crosby.

The signing of the sales agreement was a rushed affair, McCartan remembered.

"'Sign here, sign here, sign here' — nobody explained anything," he said.

Candice McCartan also recalled being in the dark about the deal before she signed. She assumed that if a lawyer had drawn up the papers, it would be legal, she said. But despite allowing a lien of $90,000, she estimated to police that she made only $900 a month through the store. That's the equivalent of 1 cent of every dollar she and Tom put on the lien. Hunter's 2015 tax returns for Buy, Sell, Trade indicate a nearly $5,000 net loss for the business.

When police asked her if she thought it was a scam, she told them "yeah."

She told police the store was in dire financial straits even before the sale, and Hunter had told her to hide how poorly it was doing when she talked to people.

Hunter had a different recollection of the business deal. He said he had a lawyer named Chuck Barnum draw up the papers for the sale. Candice told police that Ed Shaw also looked over the papers before the sale.

Barnum hand-delivered the sales agreement to Candice McCartan the day before the couple signed, Hunter said.

Hunter said he made it clear McCartan and his wife were buying the Buy, Sell, Trade business entity and the inventory, not the building.

"It's very clear in the contract," Hunter said. "And it was very clear when I told him."

Since Candice began operating the business, he said, cash flow had been between $9,000 to $13,000 monthly.

Candice McCartan was also charged with theft by swindle.

Case—and marriage—busted wide open

Candice, McCartan's wife of more than 27 years, broke the news she was leaving him. He called in to work and said he was taking the day off so he could get a divorce lawyer and recoup. He spent Monday and Tuesday that week working at Buy, Sell, Trade — and that's when he noticed something fishy.

"Why does the checkbook only say 'Candice McCartan'? Why do all the permits only say 'Candice McCartan'?'" he remembered asking himself. "There was nothing joint about this except us signing away the house."

The day after that, Candice moved out of the house, after saying she was going to move in with Hunter, the complaint said.

Hunter categorically denied Candice ever lived with him.

"She never spent one night at my house, ever," he said.

The affair existed solely in McCartan's mind, Shaw said.

A letter from Shaw to Tom McCartan's lawyer that August said Hunter's wife had left him following the allegation of an affair.

Sometime after his wife moved out, McCartan asked his divorce lawyer to take a look at the agreement. As it turned out, he hadn't bought the Buy, Sell, Trade building at all — he bought the store's ATM machine and some computers, according to the criminal complaint against Hunter.

In the days after McCartan found out, he was sick. He lost 15 pounds, he said.

"I looked like a cancer patient," he said. "I was mortified."

But the police didn't get involved until he came home one day to find the house on Oak Street had been broken into. McCartan had changed the locks so Candice couldn't get in. However, she and "a couple of cronies from the store" busted in anyway by removing an air conditioner that had been sitting on a window, he said.

On July 25, McCartan and his adult children went to the store to see if they could access the surveillance system to get more evidence of the alleged affair between Candice and Hunter. McCartan said he got a text from Candice the following day saying the locks had been changed on the store and warning him not to come back, threatening a restraining order if he did.

So that same day, McCartan spoke with Lt. Kevin Randolph of the Crosby Police Department to report the alleged burglary. He wound up telling the police everything — the affair, the deal for the store, the whole shebang.

'It's kind of outlandish and crazy'

In the aftermath of the Buy, Sell, Trade deal and the dissolution of the McCartan marriage, a feud began between Hunter and the male McCartans, which included Tom McCartan's son Nick. The felony assault charge against Hunter stems from a September 2016 incident in which Hunter and Candice were sitting in Hunter's truck. Nick McCartan and another man confronted them, and Hunter allegedly brandished a handgun to get them to leave.

On March 10, the Crosby police moved in on Hunter, raiding his business and arresting him for swindle and assault. They found over 50 guns and more than $40,000 in cash lying in various places of Hunter's house, truck and the business, according to police reports.

McCartan said he doesn't mind the possibility of staying in Crosby, even though Hunter is the mayor.

"Jim Hunter's gonna be in prison," he said. "I'm not too worried."

Hunter didn't think so.

"I believe in the system, and I think Ed (Shaw) will represent me to the best of his ability," he said.

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