Former Grandview mayor's credit card use reveals questionable expenses with taxpayer money

GRANDVIEW, Mo. - 41 Action News is uncovering questionable expenses with a city-issued credit card by the former Grandview mayor who suddenly resigned last month amidst an FBI probe.

Steve Dennis spent thousands of taxpayer dollars without providing receipts, including larger purchases at places like the Apple Store, Target and Walmart.

He also charged dozens of meals to his city purchasing card, occasionally claiming he dined with local politicians. However, several of those elected leaders tell 41 Action News they have no record or recollection those meetings ever happened.

The City of Grandview and newly-appointed Mayor Leonard Jones are already taking action based on the findings of the 41 Action News investigations.

Purchases on Christmas Eve, no receipts

When Jones took his first look at the purchasing card expense reports obtained by 41 Action News, the amount of activity surprised him.

True, there was plenty of travel to conferences during the two-year period of 2012 and 2013. But there were also a steady stream of purchases closer to home.

Jones, a city alderman before becoming mayor, always thought the credit cards were only intended for approved training and travel.

Some of the items came with receipts to back up what Dennis bought with the taxpayer funds. For instance, the $174 lamps he bought at Lowe's to add some "office decor" as it's marked on the receipt, shortly after winning reelection in 2013.

However, other expenses of more than $100 had no receipts available, according to a Sunshine request made by 41 Action News.

That included more than $600 spent at Target ($304.77), Walmart ($208.11) and Gordmans ($100) on Christmas Eve 2012. The handwritten explanation on the monthly summary indicates the Target and Walmart expenses were for "computer software" and the Gordmans was "gift cards for vendors."

Jones said the details are concerning because of the taxpayer money.

"It makes you wonder," he told 41 Action News. "If we can find out what transpired, we will. It's hard to explain, but it did occur. More importantly, what will happen in the future is what we can truly address."

Jones said everyone on the Board of Aldermen is signing a purchasing card agreement, saying they will provide receipts with all expenses.

Elected leaders will also review each other's card activity each month and approve all travel requests. When the cards are not being used for training or travel, Jones said they will be locked in a safe.

City Administrator Cory Smith said the new policy will provide better oversight. In the past, he said city staff just asked Dennis verbally about purchases instead of pressing him for receipts.

"Obviously now, some of the things look suspicious," Smith told 41 Action News. "At the time, it really didn't. You have to know his style with being hands-on about everything. He was very popular. Nobody thought much of it."

Politicians dispute lunch meetings

Dennis frequently used his city-issued purchasing card at restaurants. Throughout 2013, he typically did not provide receipts for the meals and explained them only as "lunch meetings" on his monthly summary reports.

However, in 2012, he occasionally specified meeting with certain people or businesses.

Dennis claimed he met Kansas City Councilman John Sharp for five different meals over a six-month period.

But Sharp told 41 Action News he only had a record of one of those meals, indicating his calendar showed he had other appointments and meetings on the dates he supposedly met with Dennis. The councilman described the allegedly fabricated meetings at places like Denny's and Panera as an "unpleasant surprise."

Councilwoman Jan Marcason said she never met Dennis for dinner at Winstead's near the Plaza on a Saturday night in March 2013.

And the same goes for Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, who had lunch with Dennis on two occasions at a Denny's and a Chick-fil-A, according to the former mayor's expense reports.

But Sanders' chief of staff, Calvin Williford, told 41 Action News his boss was out of town on one of those dates and had separate meetings on the other. Williford called it "perplexing."

Dennis did provide a receipt for a $117 dinner at the Capital Grille, saying the meal was with the "KCMO Council."

Grandview residents wait for explanation

It has been quiet at Dennis' Grandview home since the sudden resignation in January. Next-door neighbor Ledell Lewis said he's only seen activity at the house a couple times in the past several weeks.

Lewis said Dennis has been the ideal neighbor, often seen playing sports outside with his kids or helping rake leaves for a resident in need.

That is why it is so surprising to hear news reports of FBI interest in Dennis' now-defunct nonprofit or his mayoral campaign contributions .

"Not knowing is the toughest part," Lewis said. "The whole thing has been shocking. I hope the full truth comes out soon. I keep praying for him and his family."

In an email obtained by 41 Action News, Dennis wrote to a friend that he feared going to prison

for a year. However, there have been no charges filed or announcements out of federal courthouse in downtown Kansas City.

Residents like Lewis, who voted for Dennis in two different elections, will continue to wait and wonder.

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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