Review of campaign finance records raises questions, reveals more FBI interest in former mayor

GRANDVIEW, Mo. - There is more evidence of FBI interest in the former Grandview mayor who abruptly resigned from his elected seat last Friday.

According to Steve Dennis' campaign finance file, stored at the Jackson County Election Board, an FBI agent requested to review the documents in August 2013. A document obtained by 41 Action News included the business card of Special Agent Bob Schaefer.

Early this week, 41 Action News was the first to report the FBI had questioned two aldermen about Dennis' now-defunct nonprofit, "Matters of the Heart, Inc." The elected officials said they discovered they had been listed as board of directors without their knowledge or permission.

Later during a Tuesday city meeting, 41 Action News confirmed at least four aldermen received a visit from the FBI.

To date, Dennis has not responded to calls or emails asking for comment. However, 41 Action News found an old "Letter to the Editor" in the local newspaper where the former mayor had addressed the controversy with his charity.

A review of Dennis' campaign finance documents raises some questions about purchases made with the funds.

Dennis, who won re-election by a wide margin in the April mayoral contest, raised more than $26,000 of campaign contributions. That amount dwarfed the money raised by his opponents: Leonard Jones Jr., a city alderman, and Jan Martinette, a former Grandview mayor and state representative.

According to the most recent report, Dennis spent almost $8,000 months after the April election. Those purchases included more than $3,000 from the Apple Store in July and September. The expenditures were listed as "campaign computer equipment" and "computer software."

"The purchases after the election appear to be problematic and justifies why there might be further inquiry," Richard Reuben said, a professor who teaches campaign finance and election law at the University of Missouri School of Law.

More than half of Dennis' campaign contributions came from LLCs created by Dan Lowe , the founder and managing partner at RED Legacy. The company, which has overseen several well-known projects in the Kansas City area, is currently in the final stages of negotiating a large retail redevelopment project with the City of Grandview called, "Truman's Marketplace."

In February, Dennis received a $10,000 contribution from Venture Six Development, LLC. And the following month, he received an additional $5,000 contribution from Venture West Development, LLC.

"We made a legal campaign contribution to the mayor," Lowe told 41 Action News by email. "The mayor has not voted on one RED Legacy issue in Grandview. It's an alderman run city. Mayor votes only in the case of a tie."

City Administrator Cory Smith told 41 Action News the final details with the complex project are being negotiated and the hope is to begin redevelopment work in the next couple of months.

According to state statute, candidates in local elections are required to electronically file with the Missouri Ethics Commission if they receive contributions of more than $5,000. However, Dennis never fulfilled this requirement.

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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