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Auction features property from Nevada's first legal brothel

Monday, December 16, 2002

RENO, Nev. -- The state's first legal brothel was packed again with customers laying out the cash, but this time the money was going for the ornaments: nude paintings, a bed from the Jungle Room and other gaudy remnants of the now shuttered Mustang Ranch.

More than 250 people crowded into the ranch parlor Saturday for a government auction of much of fugitive brothel boss Joe Conforte's property.

"It's kind of sad. It's the end of an era," said Jack Drace, a former Mustang bouncer. "It was just a lot of fun out here. You could see all types of people, from street people to governors."

The 104-room ranch was forfeited to the government in 1999 after the bordello's parent companies and manager were convicted in a federal fraud and racketeering trial. The women who worked there were evicted, and the brothel was padlocked.

Three years later, the ranch furnishings, from beds to matchbooks, and four pieces of Conforte real estate in the Reno area brought $610,000 in auction proceeds Saturday to help cover law enforcement costs, said Internal Revenue Service spokesman Michael Hickey.

The Jungle Room bed and other furniture went for $550, nude paintings sold for up to $1,000 each, and Mustang jackets that originally cost $30 at the ranch netted $300 to $400.

"It's the most famous brothel of all," said 23-year-old bidder Monica Narrow.

The future of the ranch itself remains uncertain. The Treasury Department tentatively approved transferring the 340-acre property to the Bureau of Land Management. Bureau officials have said it will no longer be a brothel, but they are open to ideas for the riverfront land 15 miles east of Reno.

Conforte took over the Mustang Ranch in 1967, when prostitution was illegal in Nevada.

In 1971, the ranch became the state's first legal brothel and led to the movement that legalized prostitution in 12 of Nevada's 17 counties. Prostitution remains illegal in Reno and Las Vegas.

Conforte fled more than 10 years ago and lives in Brazil, where authorities refuse to extradite him. In 1990, hundreds of items from the brothel were sold at auction to help pay off $13 million he owes in back taxes.


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