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Kerkorian estate secretly donated $25M to UNLV medical school

Updated April 30, 2019 - 2:52 pm

Two years ago, UNLV received a $25 million donation for the medical school with the stipulation that the donor’s name remain secret, but the check was distributed so widely around campus that the Las Vegas Review-Journal obtained an unredacted copy.

The donor was the estate of Kirk Kerkorian, the late casino builder and movie studio owner, who died in 2015 at age 98. Two years later, UNLV touted an anonymous $25 million gift to the medical school, with the name, signature and account numbers covered by post-it notes.

Anthony Mandekic, executor of Estate of Kirk Kerkorian with an address of 6725 Via Austi Parkway, Suite 370 in Las Vegas, signed the check for $25 million, a copy of the check shows.

Apparently the check was provided to foundation administrative assistants to make a flyer touting the donation and copies of the unredacted check were widely distributed.

Mandekic was upset to learn the secret donor’s name leaked out of the foundation.

“People want to be anonymous for a reason,” he said. “It should be honored. They’re giving a substantial amount of money.”

He said a letter with the donation specifically directed that the donor be anonymous but he declined to say whether the estate would demand the money back now that the privacy provision was violated and whether he would provide any other donations to the university.

UNLV foundation Chief Financial Officer Tiffany Vickers said secret donations are put into a computer system with access to only a few staff.

“That was a highly confidential donation,” she said.

Promotional flyer

Vickers said a flyer was produced to tout the foundation’s largest donation and to motivate staff to drum up more money.

The flyer was apparently produced from an unredacted version copied by low-level staff, according to a source who provided a copy of the check to the Review-Journal. The source requested anonymity for fear of losing employment at the university.

The flyer, which the Review-Journal also obtained, is a tri-fold with the words: “Do Not Open, Top Secret, Access Denied Only Authorized” on the cover. The paper opens up to a copy of the check with the name and signature redacted but the account and routing numbers still visible.

Staff “was trying to make a bang as this was the largest single donation we have gotten,” Vickers said. “We were celebrating the gift.”

Vickers said the person who obtained the donation was no longer at the foundation but declined to comment on the reason for the departure.

Matching funds

Days before the donation was announced, the Nevada Legislature approved $25 million to help pay for the $100 million medical education building with the provision that the school come up with a $25 million match.

The governor announced the donation soon after the legislative action, raising speculation that the donor committed to the donation before lawmakers acted.

The name of the donor was supposed to be so tightly held that Rick Trachok, then chairman of the Board of Regents, was quoted as saying he didn’t know the name of the donor but that it was from a “highly respectable source.”

The story said only a few members of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s administration and top school officials knew the source of the funds and needed to make sure the money came from a reputable source.

“I wouldn’t accept the gift otherwise,” then-UNLV President Len Jessup said.

Vegas legend

Kerkorian had a hand in many iconic Las Vegas casinos, including renting the land to the developer of Caesars Palace and building the original MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, which tragically burned in 1980 killing 87 people. He also built the current MGM casino.

He also owned the MGM movie studio.

In 2008, Forbes estimated his fortune at about $16 billion.

He was known as an intensely private person and is reported to have given away as much as $1 billion through his The Lincy Foundation, which was an amalgamation of his daughters’ names. He never took credit for the gifts in the United States and Armenia from where his family originated.

Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter.

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