With the right kind of porcelain, the right shade of pearly translucent white, the thinnest of veneers can dazzle away the realities of the most troubled of teeth. Until the day the feds came to take him away, Gary S. Kimmel’s life gleamed with just such a cosmetic smile’s luster.
Fifty-six floors above the Loop-in Marina City’s “corncob” high-rises-beckoned the elegant dwelling that the dentist had fashioned by combining three apartments, a downtown redoubt with a view vast as a mountain aerie. In Chicago and Detroit, a fleet of luxury cars-his cars-preened like beauty queens. Kimmel’s wife, a woman named Mona Lisa-whom he had met and married on a three-week trip to the Philippines-was preparing to oversee renovations to the already handsome home. There, the couple occasionally entertained lawyers, judges, and other professionals at parties set against the twinkling nighttime skyline.
Backing it all, at a tony Erie Street address just off the Magnificent Mile, stood a bustling dental practice, a place that-with its fully booked days of fillings, root canals, and teeth cleanings-burnished the shine of an already sparkling life.
As for the dentist himself, “Doc,” as most people knew him, seemed to be regarded with goodwill and admiration. Heavyset, with merry blue eyes and a soft baby face, he in some ways embodied the stereotypical jolly big man, a quality that served him well as a dentist brandishing glimmering needles and squealing drills. Indeed, in a city with a phone book fat with the names of other dentists, his chairside manner had earned him an ample, loyal clientele.
Off hours, he enjoyed the good life-flashy cars and Las Vegas trips-but he forswore putting on airs, preferring T-shirts and surgical scrubs to wingtips and designer suits. A devoted husband and doting father of two boys and a girl, he was the longest-serving member on Marina City’s condo board, a vice president overseeing two of the most important committees: security and the screening of potential new buyers.
“He was sort of like a Friar Tuck,” says Martin Flynn, an anesthesiologist who served on the condo board with Kimmel for two years and now lives in California. “In some ways he was flamboyant-very gregarious, everybody’s pal. . . . But he never did anything that seemed odd or suspicious. He never wore jewelry around or anything like that, certainly not any pimp-daddy kind of stuff. Which is why, when it all happened, it was like, Who would have thunk?”
“It” all happened on a cold day last November when FBI agents surprised him in the parking lot of Marina City with a list of mortifying allegations. The dentist wore no smile that day, nor could he manage one when he recounted the moment to me several months later, after agreeing to discuss the case that has turned him from a respected family practitioner into “Dr. Ho,” as some Marina City residents have called him, and “the pimp dentist of Chicago,” as one Web site put it.
“I was getting out of the car in the parking lot at Marina City when two agents approached me and flashed their badges,” he recalls. Within moments, “there were lots of people around watching.” The agents asked if he was Gary Kimmel. “I said, ‘Yes.’ They said, ‘You’re under arrest for human trafficking, for prostitution.’” Neighbors of Kimmel at Marina City stood in the parking lot that day with their mouths hanging open. If Kimmel had been charged with donning a miniskirt and turning tricks himself the moment couldn’t have seemed more absurd. Gary Kimmel? Doc? There must be a terrible mistake. Nevertheless, the FBI car sped away with the dentist handcuffed in the back seat.
Kimmel was being charged with playing a part in an underage prostitution ring that stretched from Detroit to Chicago to Hawaii. He did it, the feds claim, by doing business with three violent, thuggish pimps. One was a man named Jody Spears, 35, who authorities say scoffed at a suggestion that he was exploiting underage teens, reportedly saying, “So what? Some of my best girls were minors.” Another, a Detroit man named Robert Lewis Young, 45, cruised around town in a maroon Mustang tricked out with gleaming rims and emblazoned with the words “Hoe Catcher.” Prosecutors also believe Kimmel fell in with a third pimp, a Detroit man named Mark Luke White, performing dental work on him and some of the young women who turned tricks for him. Of the many alleged prostitutes involved in the case, only one has been charged-a woman named Hae Sun Kim, who authorities allege helped White recruit and train other prostitutes.
The allegations arising from the investigation are ugly. One young woman began selling herself for Spears when she was 16, according to an affidavit accompanying his criminal indictment. Several describe the beatings they took and the 15-hour days they spent having sex for money.
Kimmel’s role included performing after-hours dental work on the prostitutes, often to repair the damage done by the pimps. In addition, authorities allege, Kimmel provided the pimps with rendezvous spots for their johns by renting out his spare Marina City apartments to Spears and Young. One woman posed for pictures on the balcony of a 56th-floor condo Kimmel owned but did not occupy, and the images were used to accompany her profile on an escort Web site called Eros.com, according to the Spears affidavit. In 2004, Chicago police busted another woman for prostitution in a sting carried out in a Kimmel apartment, authorities allege.
Kimmel’s biggest contribution, the feds say, was his fleet of cars-a Plymouth Prowler, a Dodge Viper, a Corvette, a Mercedes SUV, and others, some of them costing $100,000 or more. Like the low-slung, fin-tailed pimpmobiles of yore, the cars represented the ideal status symbol for a pimp and his coterie of women. According to Kimmel’s affidavit, Spears and Young paid cash to Kimmel, who maintained the cars in his own name and used the money to pay off the bank loans taken out to buy the cars. For Kimmel, the arrangement seemed the perfect way to bolster his shaky credit rating. For the pimps, the feds allege, the scheme provided glitzy vehicles that confirmed their “player” bona fides and supplied them with bait to dangle before hooker recruits dazzled by 20-inch rims and hood ornament bling.
Arriving at a downtown office, out on bond while his criminal case moves through the system, Kimmel looks not like a “Dr. Ho” but rather the genial, gentle “Friar Tuck” described by acquaintances. In a blue T-shirt and well worn black work shoes, and with his wife, Mona Lisa, by his side, he comes across as likable, unassuming, humble. A federal grand jury has indicted him on one count of money laundering and one count of interstate transportation of unlawful proceeds, charges that carry up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 or twice the amount of the alleged criminal proceeds. He has grudgingly accepted the suspension of his dental license and says he currently earns money as a deliveryman for a former patient’s company.
Given that publicly discussing details of a case before trial is fraught with legal risks, he is surprisingly willing to talk about the scandal his Marina City neighbors have taken to calling “Kimmelgate.” His interviews with Chicago mark the first and only time he has spoken publicly about the fix he finds himself in. He insists, to this day, that he was shocked when the FBI arrested him. “I wouldn’t know how to be a pimp if they tried to explain it to me,” he says. “I’ve got a lovely wife who I wouldn’t trade for anything and a little girl of my own. I love my job, I love dentistry, but to get involved in anything illegal-I wasn’t about that.” Authorities do allow that Kimmel did not patronize the hookers. Nor, they say, was Kimmel’s home ever used by escorts or prostitutes. Kimmel was in it, they say, purely for the money.
Still, his pleas of innocence are at odds with the version offered by authorities-and with comments he made to me in interviews. According to an affidavit accompanying Spears’s indictment, Kimmel has already admitted to money laundering and related crimes. Meanwhile, wiretaps have captured Kimmel discussing prostitutes with Young and telling his dental assistant that Young is “the pimp; he works for me.” The assistant, Idalia Merlor, who worked with Kimmel for more than a decade, has described prostitutes showing up for after-hours dental work. And several prostitutes have told authorities that Kimmel treated them without charging. Kimmel himself is cooperating with authorities; both his attorney, Joseph Lopez, and the feds say a plea bargain is highly likely.
In conversations with me, Kimmel acknowledged several of the government’s assertions, including that he rented an apartment to Young and knew that Young ran an escort service. (Kimmel says he knew him by the name Lawrence Benjamin and by the nickname “Diamond.") He admitted that Young paid him for the use of some of his cars. What’s more, Kimmel acknowledged that he performed dental work on some of the “girls” Young brought to him, knowing that they were escorts. Kimmel’s defense is that he didn’t know the young women were prostitutes. “I never made that connection in any way, shape, or form,” he says. “I knew they were escorts. That was never a question. But there is a significant difference. Escorts get hired to accompany a guy and look pretty on his arm and make him feel important. So what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Do these girls do anything more than go out with guys? Not as far as I’m concerned.”
Whether he is really that naïve or just trying to finesse his way out of a legal corner remains for the justice system to decide. The burning question here is one that continues to mystify a public both intrigued and titillated by the tale of the dentist and the pimps: How in the world does someone like Kimmel-a Northwestern University dental school graduate and former instructor, a successful practitioner who owns several apartments in one of Chicago’s best-known buildings, someone dedicated to the healing arts-how does that man get tangled up in a network of “hoe” catchers and hookers, a sordid, violent world so far removed from his own respectable lifestyle?
To find the answer, you have to drill past the surface sparkle of the life Kimmel led before his arrest, to his early years growing up in Hinsdale. Gary Steven Kimmel, now 57, was born in that quiet, affluent suburb, the son of a stay-at-home mother, Doris, and a father, George, who owned a trucking company. Kimmel says he thought he might become a doctor, but chose dentistry at the urging of his father, who Kimmel says admired his own dentist. “[My father] suggested I go to dental school and said if I did, he’d help,” Kimmel says.
In 1968, Kimmel put that plan on hold when he volunteered for the army and ended up serving in Vietnam as a squad leader. At one point he suffered what could have been a career-ending injury. Catching shrapnel from a hand grenade, he was wounded in two places critical to a dentist-his hands and his eyes. He recovered, however, and his Vietnam experience, far from daunting him, awakened a taste for adventure. “I got a little crazy and volunteered for a lot of dangerous assignments,” he says. But “I enjoyed it.”
Still, upon returning to the States in October 1969, Kimmel chose the relative safety of his father’s offer. He attended Indiana University, then dental school at Northwestern. (The university’s school of dentistry has since closed.) A whiz in math and science, he was invited to join the Northwestern faculty in 1978, and for three years he taught part-time, a university spokesman confirms.
He traded a professor’s lectern for a dentist’s chair after a stint working in the office of one of his mentors, who showed Kimmel what he could look forward to if he stuck with the career. “He took me to his office,” Kimmel recalls. “I remember thinking, Boy, is this beautiful. It had a courtyard, a brick wall, six operatories. It was clean and beautiful. He asked if I’d be willing to work for him.” Kimmel jumped at the chance, and in 1979, when the mentor moved to another location, Kimmel bought the practice at 5748 North California Avenue and became a full-time dentist. His business grew, he says, “by leaps and bounds.”
Suddenly, he says, “I was a single guy making so much money I couldn’t spend it. I had an airplane, Jaguars.” Now in a top tax bracket, he says, he was advised by his accountant to find tax shelters, so he bought 29 truck cabs and formed a profitable trucking company, K & E Leasing. At the tender age of 30, Kimmel was both a successful dentist and a prospering business owner. “I was doing incredibly well,” he says.
In 1981, he married a woman named Elisabeth Kearney, and the young couple settled into a condominium at 5415 North Sheridan Road. In those heady days, Kimmel says, he anticipated few obstacles on a long, prosperous path paved with wealth and achievement. But in time, potholes appeared. In 1985, as he was driving along the Skyway near 106th Street, he says, a drunken driver hit him. “My right knee, arm, and wrist were broken,” he says. “It was three years before I was able to work [as a dentist] again.” During that time, he says, he was forced to sell his dental practice for far less than its worth. Under the strain of financial and emotional pressure, his marriage soon collapsed. He and Elisabeth Kimmel were divorced in 1987.
In the late 1980s, the company that leased his truck cabs went under, leaving him with an idle fleet. Eventually his truck venture failed. “The IRS shut it down,” he says, leaving him with crushing debts and tax liabilities.
In November 1988, Kimmel re-turned to practicing dentistry at his California Avenue office, now owned by a man named Juanito “Johnny” Robles. As it turned out, Robles was in need of a rainmaker dentist to help build the practice. Kimmel seemed a perfect fit, Robles says. “He is a nice guy and a very shrewd businessman,” Robles told me. “Unfortunately, things didn’t work out.”
The two had a falling-out, principally over billing, and Kimmel resigned after
barely a year on the job. He quickly found employment, in 1989, with Robles’s ex-wife, Rosalina, also a dentist, who worked out of a small storefront practice on West Montrose. This time, Kimmel was a hit. “He got along with everybody,” recalls Idalia Merlor, their assistant. “All the patients loved him.” One of those patients, who later served on the Marina City condominium board with Kimmel, found him to be “quite personable” and professional. “I had no complaints with the work he did,” says Martin Flynn.
“To me, he was a great dentist, a great person,” Rosalina Robles adds. “I loved working with him.”
Kimmel himself was no less delighted. True, there was nothing glamorous about the location: In one corner, a dusty fan pushed around gusts of hot air. The waiting room featured a murky aquarium circled by a few desultory fish. Patients had to be buzzed in. Reception looked like the intake at a free medical clinic. But taking in 40 percent of the fees he generated for Robles’s practice, Kimmel slowly started to stabilize his finances. “It was great,” he says. “I figured a lot of my patients would hear that I’m back and they’ll come back to me, and they did.”
His personal life had also taken a propitious turn. He first saw Mona Lisa on a videotape of a friend’s wedding. The friend, who lived in Chicago, had married a Filipino woman, and Kimmel saw his future wife in background shots. “I asked, ‘Who’s that?’” he recalls. Never having spoken to the petite, strikingly attractive woman, he says, he took a chance and in 1992 traveled to a poor, remote village in the Philippines for an arranged meeting. “I had this affinity for beautiful Asian ladies,” he says. “So I went over there to meet her. People have always known me to be a little bit of a gambler, and I said, I’m going to take a gamble and meet this girl.”
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.
With the pieces of the puzzle falling into place, Price began having Kimmel’s cars pulled over in hopes of leveraging information from the prostitutes who were driving them. In one instance, troopers pulled over a woman after a rendezvous she had arranged with two men at a Detroit Ramada Inn. The woman told police that Kimmel was a friend of her dad. Pulled over a second time, she told officers that Kimmel was a friend who let her drive his car. Eventually she confessed that Young was her pimp and that he sometimes had his prostitutes fly to Chicago carrying money for a dentist named Gary Kimmel. Another woman also told an arresting officer that Young once asked her to ship $20,000 in a shoebox via Federal Express to the dentist, a claim later corroborated through FedEx records.
Independently, the FBI had been looking into the connection between Kimmel and Young as part of “Innocence Lost,” a nationwide investigation into human trafficking launched in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Justice. “We ended up working the case together,” Price said.
Special agents began wiretapping conversations between Kimmel and Young, including several made by the dentist from his downtown Chicago office. In one series of phone calls in the summer of 2005, the two men griped about a prostitute allegedly working for Young. The woman had apparently taken off with one of Kimmel’s cars, a Corvette, and the two men discussed what to do if she refused to return it. Kimmel favored a measured approach. Young spoke along more primitive lines.
“She’ll scare straight,” Young said, according to a transcript of the conversation.
“She commented that you threatened to kill her or have her killed,” Kimmel replied.
“Doc, don’t be nice to these girls, man,” Young answered. “I’ll get the car. I’m going to fly someone up there to get it. I’ll pick her up and slam her on her f—–g back. . . . I’ll cut all them legs off for you.”
In other conversations, the men discuss money to be sent to Kimmel, as well as the headaches caused when Young’s prostitutes were pulled over. “I think we’re going to have to rethink this whole deal,” Kimmel told Young. “We’re probably going to have to start getting these things [the cars] out of my name. I’ll help you get ’em when you need ’em, but you’ve gotta move ’em.”
Still, it wasn’t until October of 2005 that they began to realize that the authorities were closing in. On October 13th, Young called Kimmel in Chicago with a warning: “The state boys are raiding my house right now. You should be getting a call.”
“It’s good you told me before they got to me,” Kimmel responded. “Is there something they have on me?”
“I don’t know what it’s about,” said Young. But “you don’t have to answer mack. . . . I’m just giving you a heads-up in case they contact you.”
Detective Price called Kimmel four days later. Reaching the dentist at his Erie Street practice, the detective began asking questions for which Kimmel had no good answers. Price noted, for instance, that one of Kimmel’s cars was registered with a Michigan address. Kimmel explained that he kept an apartment, number 212, at 18701 Grand River Avenue in Detroit. He’d been in and out of there six or eight times in the past six months, he told Price. In fact, as the detective had already discovered, the address was for a UPS store and the number 212 was a mailbox number, not an apartment. “I didn’t even tell him I knew,” Price says. “I just let him keep talking, and saved that to tune him up with later.”
Next, Price asked about Young. Did Kimmel know Young was a pimp? No. Had he ever visited Young’s home? Yes. “We’re friendly,” Kimmel said. “Never had a problem with the guy.”
Did Kimmel realize that several of his cars might have to be forfeited because they were being used in connection with a prostitution ring? “Oh, Jesus,” Kimmel replied. “I had no idea about this thing and I’m really upset about it.”
Finally, Price delivered the coup de grâce. “I’m just curious,” the detective said. “You have eight vehicles and more than half are being driven by a pimp and prostitutes?”
Kimmel responded, “Well, see, I don’t know that; that’s the first time I’m hearing something like this. . . . It sounds like I’m going to need an attorney.”
Price told me the call would have been amusing if the matter hadn’t been so serious. “Let’s just say [Kimmel] is not the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to the criminal world and trying not to get caught,” the detective said. Price found Young’s answers, when he questioned him later that same day, to be equally evasive and self-serving, though with a street-hardened insouciance. Asked how he made his living, Young volunteered that he ran a porn site. Pressed, Young explained, “They give me gifts.”
“Who?” Price asked. “The girls give you gifts? What kind of gifts?”
“Everything. Clothes, coats, money. Everything.
“Girls like me,” Young continued. “They like my style, they like the way I dress, they like the way I carry myself, they like the way I respect them.”
Toward the end of the conversation, Young offered what may be the punch line to the tale of the dentist and the pimps, the best explanation of how someone like Kimmel got mixed up with someone like Young in the first place. “He just likes exciting people, that’s all,” Young told Price. “That’s why he likes me.”
FBI agents arrested Kimmel last November in the parking lot of Marina City as he stepped out of his Mercedes SUV. “They put me in handcuffs, took me to the FBI office, and basically kept me chained to a bench from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Kimmel recalls. What was going through his mind? “I was thinking about my wife and kids,” he says. “That was it. I’ve been through enough trauma that this wasn’t a big deal. It was just another day for me.”
While Kimmel was “chained to a bench,” he says, agents raided his home, and later the Montrose Avenue practice of Rosalina Robles. At Kimmel’s dental office on Erie Street, which has since been shut down, the agents told those arriving for morning appointments, “He’s not taking patients today.”
A group of investigators, including Price, later went to Las Vegas, where they found Young holed up alone in a hotel. Authorities flew Young back to Detroit, where a judge denied him bond because of a long criminal history, including convictions for illegal weapons, prostitution, and drugs. He currently awaits trial on a 27-count federal indictment. The charges include sex trafficking of children, transportation of a minor across state lines for criminal sexual activity, distribution of child pornography, making threatening interstate communications, and money laundering.
In January, Patrick Fitzgerald called a press conference to announce the indictment of Kimmel, Young, and several others authorities say were involved in the prostitution ring. (Spears’s federal indictment was unsealed in July. He too has been charged with sexual exploitation of children.) According to Fitzgerald, Kimmel accepted more than $400,000 from Young and Spears.
Of the 11 luxury vehicles owned by Kimmel, five-including the Corvette, the Lexus, and a 2005 Mercedes-Benz-were seized. Authorities are currently in the process of trying to seize the nine Marina City apartments owned by Kimmel.
At Marina City, “Kimmelgate” has provided an ongoing source of gossip, disgust, and mocking humor-in the hallways, on several blogs, and in the downstairs lobby where a group of retired women who call themselves the “Couch Babes” gather to discuss the day’s events. “I’m just glad it wasn’t my dentist, who just gave me some oral surgery Tuesday night,” a man named Steven posted on Chicago.metblogs.com. A writer for New City Chicago, a former Kimmel patient, described his reaction to the news by writing, “Not that I’m not already afraid of dentists with all their pointy-cutting things and cheerful willingness to drill holes in your bones. But . . . Holy shit! [Kimmel] has more than once had his fingers in my mouth.”
The arrest has also tapped into an undercurrent of anger on the part of many residents at the response to the scandal by the Marina City Condominium Association. For starters, neighbors are incensed that Kimmel was head of the condo board’s security and screening committee, a position that would have made it easy for him to bring in shady tenants, they say. “I don’t pretend to say that all the problems in Marina City are related to the Kimmel case,” says Doyle. “But I don’t think anything occurs in a vacuum. And once Kimmel happened, it was a wake-up call to people in the building.” Part of that call has been a lawsuit against the condo association and the condo board, questioning issues of internal governance. Several residents want to know whether the board knew what Kimmel was up to-the board’s president, Donna Leonard, is godmother to two of Kimmel’s children-and, if board members didn’t know, how could they have been so blind?
Leonard says that neither she nor the board knew anything about Kimmel’s alleged activities. “I found out about this only from a Chicago Sun-Times reporter,” says Leonard. “To say I was shocked is an understatement.” She points out that no complaints were made to the building about prostitutes or pimps. As to the 2004 prostitution arrest in one of Kimmel’s apartments, Leonard says police are not obliged to report such incidents, and they didn’t in that case. She has responded cautiously to the scandal because the charges made against Kimmel were, as this story went to press, still mere allegations.
Both Rosalina Robles and her assistant, Idalia Merlor, meanwhile, say they are still mystified at how Kimmel could throw away a career by partnering with, of all people, pimps. “Why would he do this? It’s so dirty,” Robles says. “I know he was making a lot of money as a dentist. I guess everyone has their dark little secret.”
Kimmel and his family continue to live in the 56th-floor residence in Marina City, which, on the spur of the moment, he agrees to show me one late summer afternoon. He leads me first into the living room, where his children play on the shiny hardwood floors under a nanny’s watchful eye. Down a hallway, framed photographs of him in high school hang next to pictures of his wife and children. For a time shortly after his indictment, he had put the dwelling up for sale; asking price: $1 million. But now he says that, if it’s at all possible, he doesn’t want to leave-either the building or the three-condo home he and his wife have created. It’s easy to see why not. Granite counters and expensive tile and baker’s glass (which he says he installed) create a home worthy of a magazine spread. The master bedroom is small, but it opens onto a wide bathroom dominated by a large Jacuzzi. And, of course, “there’s the view,” he says, nodding toward a sweeping curve of windows that opens onto the stunning downtown panorama, the vista he wants desperately to hold on to, the one that haunts him when he thinks of the prospect of a prison cell.
Earlier, in the downtown office where I first met Kimmel to discuss the scandal that had shattered his reputation, jeopardized his ability to stay in his home, and perhaps finished him as a dentist, he groped for words to explain how he had gotten himself into such a mess. “In hindsight, there should have been a red flag going up,” he said. As he spoke, he looked as miserable as a root canal patient. “My biggest problem is I’m a people person,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m a little too soft and too trusting.” As he uttered the words, he looked down at his hands, as if searching for a Novocain needle to numb the reality in which he has found himself. Instead, in the late afternoon, clad in his T-shirt and scuffed shoes, the dentist summoned an expression he had urged on so many who had come to him in pain. A smile.
10 months ago