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Days later in Manila, the two were married in a civil ceremony. His finances, however, got worse before they got better. The failure of his trucking business forced him into bankruptcy in 1994. That left him with a new wife and little means to support her, at least not in the manner he had wanted. “We were renting an apartment with one little bedroom,” Kimmel recalls. “We didn’t even have furniture,” adds his wife. His credit was shot. Still, says Kimmel, he refused to be daunted. Somehow he would claw his way back to the good life. “I figured that was part of my incentive-it wasn’t fair to this woman to live the kind of life I was living,” he says.
He emerged from bankruptcy in late December of 1994, and, using a Veterans Administration loan, he bought a single condominium in Marina City; a short time later, he took out a bank loan and bought a second condo in the landmark building. When the value of those properties nearly doubled, he took out another loan and bought a third condo, then another. In the late 1990s, Rosalina Robles helped Kimmel secure financing for two more apartments, both on the 58th floor. Soon, Kimmel and his wife owned a block of condos, including the units they would use to assemble their 56th-floor residence.
In time, Kimmel began renting out some of the apartments-one of them, in 2001, to a man named Jody Spears. Kimmel claims he knew little about Spears beyond being his landlord. But authorities say that as far back as 1993, Spears had earned his living as a pimp, managing several prostitutes including some who were underage. Driving a Cadillac, and living out of hotels for months at a time, Spears often introduced himself as a music producer for a company called Party Tyme and even had a credit card machine for the business. Authorities say, however, that the company was a front for Spears’s prostitution dealings.
The allegations are based on, among other things, testimony from several young women who say they worked as prostitutes for Spears in places as varied as Skokie, Tampa, Las Vegas, Hollywood, Hawaii, Atlanta, and Nashville.
To this day, Kimmel insists he was only cordially acquainted with Spears. But court documents and interviews by Chicago with Kimmel’s former assistant, Merlor, shows a much closer relationship. For starters, Kimmel agreed with Spears to share in the purchase of a thirties-style Plymouth roadster called a Prowler. While Kimmel’s other tenants paid rent by personal check, Spears always tendered cash-delivered either personally by Spears or by one of his prostitutes.
Spears also had an arrangement for special after-hours dental care for himself and his women, authorities allege. In scenes reminiscent of something out of Superfly, Merlor recalls, Spears would show up in his flashy orange Prowler with scantily clad young women in tow. Merlor says that when she asked Kimmel what was going on, the dentist told her Spears was a pimp. Merlor says Spears also attended some of the parties thrown by Kimmel and his wife. (Kimmel says Spears attended only one party, and in that case he had dropped by unannounced.)
Residents of Marina City, however, occasionally took notice. The vanity plate on one of Kimmel’s cars, for instance, read “Secret,” but Kimmel himself was rarely seen behind the wheel. Instead, a young woman (who authorities would say used “Secret” as her prostitute’s pseudonym) was observed driving the vehicle. Several residents also noticed odd comings and goings at the Marina City towers. “Several times I saw some, shall we say, rather scantily clad women coming from the laundry room or going up and down the elevator,” says resident Mike Doyle, who runs a blog about living in downtown Chicago. “Beaded purses and high stiletto heels . . . basically what you might call your hooker garb finery.”
In another building, the women might have drawn more scrutiny. But among the idiosyncrasies of the distinctive twin towers that rise from the downtown riverfront, residents say, is an abiding acceptance of the offbeat. Designed in 1959 by architect Bertrand Goldberg and completed in 1964, the iconic corncobs have always attracted a somewhat eclectic lot, a changing cast of characters that has included everyone from Loop professionals to artists to downright eccentrics. “Marina City has always been full of very quirky, very interesting people,” says Doyle, who has rented at Marina City for a year and a half. “So when we would see these women, we’d sometimes wonder, Is this a problem or do these people live here?”
Authorities say that Kimmel’s relationship with Spears continued until the day that Spears brought another man, Robert Lewis Young, to the dental office. Young (who went by one of his aliases, Lawrence Benjamin, and also his nickname, “Blue Diamond") flashed even more of the stereotypical pimp flamboyance than Spears, Merlor says. Smooth and charismatic, with long dark hair straightened so that it spilled below his shoulders, Young became a fixture at the Montrose Avenue dental practice. He also became Kimmel’s newest cash-paying renter at Marina City.
After the appearance of Young, Spears faded from the picture. The two ran in the same circles, say investigators, who are unsure about the exact nature of their relationship. But both men shared striking similarities, Merlor says. Like Spears, Young began bringing young women for Kimmel’s chair, rolling up in sparkling, exotic rides. Sporting flashy suits, Young was “like something out of a movie,” Merlor recalls. “The suits, the nice cars, walk in with one girl, two girls-all this thuggish stuff.”
Some of the young women, who she says looked anywhere from 17 to 20 years old, perhaps younger, “wore little skirts and heels and little shirts.” Some sobbed from faces purpled by bruises and mouths jagged from punched-out teeth. “They just looked really shabby, really sad, hurt,” she says. One girl in particular, she recalls, wept and trembled. “At first, I just thought they were tough girls who just got into fights with people.”
In addition to providing dental privileges, Kimmel began sending a number of his high-priced cars to Detroit, where Young was based, either driving them there himself or turning the keys over to one of Young’s prostitutes, prosecutors say. Authorities allege that the vehicles belonged to Kimmel in name only. He would secure the credit and register the cars to himself and collect cash from Young (who would have had trouble acquiring the fancy cars directly using only cash).
Kimmel told me that his sole purpose in providing cars to Young was to rebuild his credit. “That’s all I know,” the dentist says. “I owned them and they made payments to me.” The arrangement, he says, worked beautifully. “My credit was going from bad to good to great.” Authorities maintain, however, that what Kimmel was doing amounted to money laundering. “Kimmel attempted to conceal that the vehicles were for Young and the prostitutes by making false statements to credit companies, insurance companies, and law enforcement,” U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in announcing Kimmel’s indictment.
As to dental work provided for Spears, Young, and the prostitutes, Kimmel insisted to me that he considered them simply referrals. He says he charged-and kept records on-the young women, just as he would with any other patients. He admits he knew they were escorts, but says that he didn’t think it was his place to ask questions. Both Merlor and Rosalina Robles, however, contradict Kimmel’s claims. “No money was ever given to our office,” says Merlor, and as far as she knew, the women’s appointments were never recorded. “He always told me they were emergencies,” she says.
Eventually, Robles says, she learned of the after-hours appointments from Idalia Merlor. Though unaware of the details of Kimmel’s arrangement, she says, she grew increasingly uncomfortable. “Idalia told me, ‘You know, when you aren’t here, I’ve seen weird people coming in.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, “weird"?’ She said, ‘Girls dressed like prostitutes, and guys driving really nice cars.’ . . . I was really crying when I found out about this.”
In 2002, after they had worked together for more than a dozen years, Rosalina Robles told Kimmel to leave. She blames their split on differences over money and other “personal issues,” including what appeared to be Kimmel’s performing work off the books. Kimmel says she was angry that he wouldn’t sign a long-term contract.
In any case, Kimmel moved to Chicagoland Dental, at 233 East Erie Street. In December of 2002, however-just months after starting-he was fired from there, too. (He says Robles poisoned the owners against him, an accusation she denies.) Kimmel says he decided to open his own practice in the same building and within days was again seeing patients.
Robles, Merlor, and others who are familiar with Kimmel say they noticed a change in Kimmel’s lifestyle around this time. He now owned nine condominiums in Marina City and enough fancy cars to fill a small parking lot. His home, with its enormous Jacuzzi tub and cream-colored leather furniture, was among the nicest in the building. “His lifestyle when he was working with me was nothing like that,” Rosalina Robles says. “After he moved to Erie, I said to him, ‘Wow, dentistry must be treating you good down there.’ He said, ‘It’s never been better.’” His practice was booming, his credit stellar.
But more than braces and bridgework accounted for the sudden reversal of fortunes. Prosecutors say a big part of Kimmel’s success lay in Federal Express packages sent to him by Young, and in deliveries made to the dentist by some of Young’s prostitutes. The parcels contained as much as $35,000 in cash, authorities say, money that bought the pimps access to the apartments, fancy cars, and Kimmel’s dental services.
Unbeknownst to Kimmel, though, in the back-office cubicle of a nondescript building in Detroit, Detective Sergeant Edward Price of the Michigan State Police was becoming intrigued by the sudden shift in fortunes of Gary Kimmel.
The FBI would eventually take the lead in the investigation of the dentist, Young, and Spears. But the chain of events that led to Kimmel’s downfall began with a simple traffic stop in Detroit and the instincts of Price, a veteran investigator. Tall, with a neatly groomed mustache and the build of a former athlete, “Cuba,” as Price was known to his fellow officers because of his resemblance to the actor Cuba Gooding Jr., had focused his work in recent years on the vast subculture of vice in Detroit. “The saddest thing is the underage girls and how they are abused,” Price told me when I visited him in that city. He is married, with two children (and another on the way) including a 12-year-old girl. “That part of it just makes you sick. You really see when you dig into a case like this how the girls are actually victims. A lot of times it’s said that prostitution is a victimless crime, but that’s not true at all.”
That first traffic stop, in 2003, wasn’t in a Kimmel car, but caught Price’s notice when he discovered that the driver was a pimp-partner of “Blue Diamond"-Robert Lewis Young. Within a few months, a trooper stopped Young himself with one of his prostitutes, this time in a car owned by Kimmel. The Detroit officers thought it odd that the car was registered to someone who lived in Illinois. Much later, when Price did some checking, he discovered that the owner was actually a dentist who was also renting an apartment in Chicago to Young. “That threw me for a loop,” Price said. “What was a pimp in Detroit doing driving a car belonging to a dentist in Chicago?”
Price placed Young’s Detroit house under surveillance and soon confirmed his suspicions that the place was no ordinary residence. The house looked normal enough. A red brick split-level, it sat under a large oak shade tree and was fronted by a neatly trimmed square of thick green grass. A white iron railing decorated with heart-shaped curlicues guarded a small front porch. The inside, however, contained several boudoir-style bedrooms, bathed in pink and pastels, one of them dolled up with a chair shaped like a high-heeled shoe. In addition, at the top of a set of stairs, a poster-size photograph of Young showed him wearing a suit, a hat (“pimp clothes,” Price says), and a rose in his lapel.
Price learned that the home was not a bordello, though Young housed several of his prostitutes there and lived there himself when he was in Detroit. The house did, however, have a connection to Kimmel. Surveillance revealed that in front of the house sat half a dozen of the dentist’s cars and that the vehicles were being used by Young and the prostitutes. “That’s when Doc [Kimmel] and all the cars came into play,” Price told me. “So we knew [Kimmel’s] involvement when we started the case; we just didn’t know the depths of how much he was involved until the case got going.”
The deeper Price dug, the more evidence he found to support his notion that he was dealing with a network of players. Among them, authorities say, were Young’s “muscle,” a man named Joe Awethe who was based in Hawaii, and a Detroit man named George Abro. Authorities say Abro was the owner of Wire Link, a cell phone store around the corner from Young’s house. The business provided cell phones to Young, who maintained accounts under several aliases, prosecutors say. Awethe allegedly oversaw the Hawaii end of the operation-where Young owned a travel agency-including making sure that visiting prostitutes were indeed working.