One month after mysterious resignation, former Grandview mayor pleads guilty to wire fraud

KANSAS CITY, Mo - Former Grandview Mayor Steve Dennis pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in federal court on Tuesday.

He is convicted of taking $35,000 worth of donations from the International House of Prayer under a bogus charity and using it for his personal expenses.

Dennis, who hasn't spoken publicly since the controversy surfaced, had originally said he planned to make a statement after Tuesday's court proceedings. But following the hearing, his attorney indicated his client had nothing to say because of the "sensitive nature of the issues.

However, as Dennis left the courthouse, he spoke briefly with 41 Action News.

"I truly am not allowed to say anything right now," Dennis said. "I really need the ability for me and my family to be able to handle this and the pain that it's caused."

The plea agreement recommended  (PDF) Dennis would have to serve one year and one day in prison. Read more info about the wire fraud (PDF) .

The plea deal comes roughly one month after Dennis abruptly resigned from his post in January without offering explanation for the sudden decision.

"For many years we have esteemed Steve Dennis as a man of integrity - he has a proven track record," said Lenny La Guardia of the International House of Prayer in an emailed statement. "We are grateful for the excellent way he has served Grandview for many years. Our prayers are with him and his family."

41 Action News was the first to report FBI interest in Dennis' now-defunct nonprofit organization, "Matters of the Heart, Inc," later confirming federal authorities questioned at least four city aldermen .

The plan started to unravel in April 2013 when two city aldermen, Brent Steeno and John Maloney, learned they were listed on the nonprofit's board of directors without their knowledge.

"It seemed very suspicious at the time. You don't like to see your names on documents of an organization that you never agreed to," Steeno said on Tuesday.

41 Action News then uncovered further FBI scrutiny on Dennis' campaign contributions . Dennis won re-election in April 2013 by a comfortable margin and his file indicated he raised more than $26,000, dwarfing the amounts raised by his opponents.

But those campaign finance documents also revealed a large chunk of money spent after the election at places like the Apple Store. An FBI agent who also requested the file last year left behind a copy of his business card, providing an ominous warning sign of what was to come.

41 Action News also discovered questionable expenses with Dennis' city-issued credit card. Thousands of dollars worth of purchases lacked any receipts, including hundreds of dollars on Christmas Eve 2012 at several retail stores.

Dennis claimed to dine with several politicians on the taxpayers' dime, but those elected leaders told 41 Action News the meetings never occurred.

Following that story, newly-appointed Mayor Leonard Jones implemented new policies with purchasing cards issued to city officials.

41 Action News asked Dennis on Tuesday if taxpayer money was misused.

"Unequivocally no," Dennis answered. This was all about just the donations to the nonprofit. That is it."

Emails obtained by 41 Action News did foreshadow Dennis' legal problems. In one email, the former mayor told a friend that he feared going to prison .

But residents and city leaders in Grandview had only been able to speculate about the circumstances since the sudden resignation.

Steeno said residents deserve an apology and an explanation for being left in the dark for the past month.

"There is still some confusion as to what exactly happened," Steeno said. "If there is more to come out of the story still, I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was."

It is a stunning fall from grace for an energetic, popular mayor. When 41 Action News asked if Dennis had a message for his supporters, the longtime public servant replied, "I will miss them."

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook

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