Former Grandview mayor pleads guilty to $35K fraud scheme - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Former Grandview mayor pleads guilty to $35K fraud scheme


The former mayor of Grandview pleaded guilty in court Tuesday to taking $35,000 intended for a charity and using it for personal expenses.

Steve Dennis pleaded guilty to a federal wiretapping charge, which is a felony. He stole money from the International House of Prayer, a Grandview nonprofit.

Outside the courtroom, though, he said he "unequivocally" did not use any tax dollars for his own use.

"This was all about the donations to the nonprofit. That was it," he said. "We really need the ability for me and my family to be able to handle this and the pain that it's caused by ourselves, we'd really appreciate that."

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have worked out a deal where Dennis will face one year and one day in prison in exchange for him giving up his right to appear before a grand jury. He could have faced up to 20 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs will sentence him in the coming months, but judges generally accept plea deals worked out by defense attorneys and prosecutors.

Dennis admitted he set up fake charities and took $35,000 from International House of Prayer that he then used for his personal benefit, including paying for his family's living expenses.

When reached at home Monday night, Dennis told KCTV5 photographer Greg Milota that he would be in court Tuesday morning, but declined further comment.

He later sent a text to Milota.

"I doing everything I can to protect my family from the media onslaught. I will have a statement tomorrow. Thanks for your patience and understanding," Dennis wrote.

He didn't speak in court Tuesday.

When he left for court, he asked for privacy, and declined to apologize to Grandview or IHOP. He said IHOP representatives have not sought the return of the money.

Email records obtained by KCTV5 had shown that Dennis had feared prison time before he resigned on Jan. 10.

Dennis admitted that from Dec. 12, 2011, to Nov. 29, 2013, he solicited donations for a corporation called Matters of the Heart. He said the nonprofit was federally tax exempt, but he never applied for the nonprofit status with the IRS even though an attorney had given him the needed instructions in December 2011.

The nonprofit, Matters of the Heart, had come under scrutiny by the Missouri Secretary of State's Office for paperwork issues, and two Grandview aldermen said they were listed as charity directors when in fact they were not. Matters of the Heart has since been dissolved.

In 2012, IHOP gave a check for $10,000 and then a check for $25,000 that Dennis used for himself and his family. Court records did not detail how he spent the money.

The judge could order Dennis to pay restitution to International House of Prayer.

In a statement, a spokesman for IHOP offered praise for Dennis.

"For many years we have esteemed Steve Dennis as a man of integrity. He has a proven track record. We are grateful for the excellent way he has served Grandview for many years. Our prayers are with he and his family," the statement said.

Some Grandview leaders had said Dennis' departure was the result of a political witch hunt.

Brent Steeno and John Maloney were the two alderman listed as board directors without their knowledge.

"I was pretty shocked. I was listed as an organization's board of directors and didn't get permission for my name to be used. I'm a fairly nice guy, so if he had asked me, I would have most likely said yes to be a part of that organization," Steeno said.

Steeno said Dennis should have apologized to Grandview residents.

"I think he owes the city an apology, just to the citizens to express that he's sorry for what has happened over the last month," Steeno said.

Dennis was re-elected to a four-year term last April. Steeno said the part-time job as mayor was Dennis' only known source of income.

Dennis committed the wire fraud because he deposited the checks into his account. The check was written in Kansas and deposited in Missouri.

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