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Businessman’s Suicide Felt Across Neb.

February 18, 2002

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Less than a week before his company would go bankrupt, David R. Hunter drove to a desolate dirt road, climbed out of his sport utility vehicle, put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger.

A passer-by found him lying face down, the gun at his feet. The 57-year-old political activist, real estate executive and decorated Vietnam War veteran was rushed to a hospital, where he died 14 hours later.

``There was no reason any of us could think of that he would do this to himself, so we were trying to think through who could have done this,″ said Mayor Don Wesely, a friend of Hunter’s for nearly 20 years.

But it soon became apparent to police that Hunter had a secret life. Hunter, who ran a title insurance company, had allegedly shuffled millions of dollars in clients’ accounts to stay ahead of bad checks.

Gov. Mike Johanns returned $7,900 in campaign donations from Hunter, his wife and his company. Johanns also ordered state insurance investigators to determine how Hunter’s apparently thriving company ended up in such shambles, declaring bankruptcy only six days after his death. The filing listed assets of up to $10 million but debts of up to $50 million.

As many as 1,000 homeowners and businesses who had dealings with Hunter’s company, State Title Services, could seek money from the firm.

As a result, Johanns is demanding stiffer state laws overseeing accounts that title insurance agencies hold pending the closing of real estate deals. State Title Services sells policies to homeowners and lenders to insure titles are free of liens and other defects.

A local bank official had tipped off police to possible fraud at the company. The banker called Hunter only days before he died, voicing his suspicions, according to court affidavits.

For years, Hunter was a highly respected though sometimes controversial community activist who once served as chairman of the Democratic Party’s 1st Congressional District.

His business held Christmas parties for up to 600 people, packing hotel ballrooms for buffet dinners and the chance to hear people like Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist George Will and former Clinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry.

But on the day he died, Hunter left notes for his wife, Linda Hovis-Hunter, about safety deposit boxes where she could find his $3.2 million in life insurance policies, and a taped message asking an acquaintance to help her hide any money collected from the policies, police said.

It was a secret life that not even his wife knew until after he died, the mayor said.

``She’s still in shock. I feel she didn’t know that was going on anymore than any of the rest of us,″ Wesely said of Hovis-Hunter, who has declined to comment.

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Hunter served 18 months in Vietnam as a medical corpsman, earning two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. He later moved to Lincoln, where he served on numerous city boards.

A stocky, gruff man with a grizzly voice, Hunter was critical of spending in Lincoln public schools, voiced opinions on many issues, sometimes lost his temper and could be hard on people, Wesely said.

Even as friends and family wondered if his death was the result of foul play, police were seizing computers, floppy disks and mail from Hunter’s company only three blocks from the state Capitol.

Hunter lived in a large, two-story stone house in a fashionable neighborhood and he was building a home worth more than $1 million south of town. He owned a $400,000 condominium, a 48-foot yacht and an undeveloped, residential lot worth $465,000 in Fort Myers, Fla.

That kind of spending might raise some eyebrows, Wesely said, but many successful business people live similar lifestyles.

After his Jan. 22 death, though, people who knew and loved Hunter are left with many questions.

``This activity he was involved in was a betrayal,″ Wesely said. ``So you balance off being angry at him for what he did, what he has left behind, with the memories of things he did do that were helpful to the community.″


On the Net:

State Title: http://www.statetitle.com

Department of Insurance: http://www.state.ne.us/home/NDOI/

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