A consultant to special taxing districts in Southwest Missouri faces up to seven years in prison if he does not pay restitution for the more than $176,000 he stole from his clients, according to Newton County Prosecutor Jake Skouby.

Darrell Gross, 65, operator of Gross and Associates of Republic, faces sentencing Oct. 28 after he pleaded guilty Aug. 30 in Newton County Circuit Court to charges of stealing and receiving stolen property in connection with his diversion of sales tax revenue from taxing districts in Joplin and Neosho.

Gross worked for developers to provide studies and recommendations on whether proposals for developments met the criteria to receive public assistance for part of the development costs. That assistance is provided through tax collections allowed under state law such as tax increment financing, community improvement districts and transportation development districts.

One of the guilty pleas was made in connection with the theft of $176,635 from the Hope Valley Community Improvement District in Joplin.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol conducted an investigation of the Hope Valley bank account at the request of Joplin city officials after Gross had been charged with receiving stolen property in the Neosho case.

The tax money collected from the district was intended to go toward the costs of redeveloping the area near 44th Street and Range Line Road for a future retail, restaurant and office district called Hope Valley.

Hope Valley developer Kevin Steele could not be contacted for comment on Friday.

Joplin city officials sought an investigation of the Hope Valley CID after Gross had been charged in Neosho with taking checks paid into the Neosho Big Spring Community Improvement District. Gross also pleaded guilty Aug. 30 to one of three charges of receiving stolen property filed in connection with the money he diverted from that district.

Court records related to the charges filed in the Big Spring case state that tax proceeds were being deposited into Community Bank and Trust in Neosho but that Gross recommended to the district's then-directors that it be changed to another bank. After that, Gross stopped automatic tax deposits into the account and had the Missouri Department of Revenue mail paper checks to what turned out to be his personal address.

He then deposited those checks in an account in his name at a Greene County bank, which resulted in a charge of forgery being filed in that county. A court hearing was scheduled in that case on Friday but that hearing was continued until Nov. 1.

It is alleged that Gross used a forged board resolution to open that account Jan. 26, 2016, in Republic. Gross received at least six checks that totaled about $13,050 that were deposited in that account, the patrol's investigation showed.

A case was developed after new board members were seated to oversee the Big Spring district. In reviewing records of the district's past activities, they saw discrepancies they referred for investigation.

Derek Snyder, attorney for the Big Spring board, said Friday he would have to contact board members to find out if they wished to comment on the outcome of the case at sentencing.

The Newton County prosecutor said punishment on the charges is capped at seven years in prison. Restitution could affect the sentencing recommendation, he said.

A background investigation is to be done on Gross to help Circuit Judge Gregory Stremel determine an appropriate sentence.

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