RENO — An ex-lover of Liberace who was the subject of a recent HBO film on the pianist’s life was sentenced to probation on identify theft charges after lawyers argued over whether it was proper for him to receive drug testing at a Nevada brothel.
Washoe District Judge Patrick Flanagan sentenced Scott Thorson Wednesday to eight to 20 years for burglary and ID theft, but suspended the prison sentence. The judge also rejected prosecutors’ request Thorson be ordered to inpatient drug treatment and instead sent him to the county’s outpatient drug court program.
Thorson, author of the book “Behind the Candelabra” used as the basis for the HBO film, was arrested in February and pleaded guilty May 8 to unlawful possession and use of a credit card stolen from a man at a motel next door to a Reno strip club.
But since then, his lawyer David Houston said, Thorson has completed a drug treatment while in jail. And after he was bailed out by Bunny Ranch brothel owner Dennis Hof, voluntarily submitted to routine drug testing at the brothel east of Carson City to help show his commitment to becoming substance free, Houston said.
Assistant Deputy District Attorney John Helzer mocked the brothel testing in arguing for inpatient treatment followed by a drug court stint.
“The courts can’t rely on the defendant being drug tested by a madam in a brothel to solve this problem,” Helzer said.
But Houston said on Thursday the licensed testing was a legitimate way for Thorson to demonstrate “he is not just talking the talk but walking the walk.”
“What the state fails to appreciate is the license of that brothel is dependent upon keeping everyone drug free,” Houston said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“I cannot think of any other business that has a more vested interest in making sure people are following the law. As a consequence, I would trust her drug testing over most others simply because it means so much and she is so experienced in sorting through the B.S. to get to the truth,” he said.
Hof said he agreed to pay $15,000 bail to free Thorson from Washoe County jail May 31 after two employees told him about the HBO drama detailing Thornson’s relationship with the flamboyant Vegas performer.
Hof, whose brothel was featured in the HBO series “Cathouse,” said he moved Thorson into his guest house behind the brothel so Thorson can get treatment for colon cancer and drug problems.
Thorson has had prior run-ins with the law relating to drugs, and he was shot multiple times in a shooting connected to his participation as a witness in a murder case, Hof said.
Deputy District Attorney Rebecca Druckman said Thursday that while the prosecutors advocated inpatient treatment, they had no complaints about the judge’s decision.
“That is within the court’s discretion. I don’t think we are displeased,” Druckman said. She noted that if Thorson fails to comply with the drug court program or other conditions of his probation, the judge made it clear he’ll have to serve the prison term of 96 to 240 months.
“We feel the sentence is appropriate,” she said. “He did give Mr. Thorson an incentive to do well — eight to 20 years if he fails.”
He also was ordered to pay $1,470 in restitution to the credit card company.
Druckman said prosecutors were more concerned about the way Thornson portrayed himself as a celebrity. She said he indicated to the court he intends to write a second book focusing on his own effort to “get clean and help people with cancer and help other drug addicts ... and he implied he could do so as a celebrity.”
“That overshadows the truths of the case — that a real person was hurt be the defendant’s criminal misconduct,” she said Thursday.
Helzer said in a statement after sentencing on Wednesday that Thorson has more in common with homeless drug abusers than the rich and famous.
“The defendant’s perception of his own celebrity is an obstacle to his recovery,” he said. “He needs to step into the real world.”