Government seeks ideas on what to do with old Nevada brothel

RENO -- Three years after seizing the infamous Mustang Ranch brothel, the federal government hasn't decided what to do with the prime riverfront property.

Bureau of Land Management has scrapped an idea to turn the site of the state's first legal bordello into a real ranch for wild mustangs. Now, it plans to seek suggestions early next year on what to do with the property 15 miles east of Reno.

The ranch was forfeited to the federal government in 1999, after guilty verdicts against the bordello's parent companies and manager in a federal fraud and racketeering trial.

The women who worked there were evicted and the brothel was padlocked.

The Treasury Department tentatively has approved an Internal Revenue Service plan to transfer the 340-acre ranch to the BLM.

"The IRS has pretty much told us it won't be a brothel any longer," bureau spokesman Mark Struble said from Carson City. "Other than that, I think we have very open minds as to what should be done at this point."

The 104-room Mustang Ranch first made headlines in 1955, when it was opened by Joe Conforte during a time when prostitution was illegal.

In 1971, it became the state's first legal brothel and led to the movement that resulted in legalized prostitution in parts of 12 of Nevada's 17 counties.

Conforte fled to avoid tax charges more than 10 years ago and lives in Brazil, where authorities refuse to extradite him.

Much of Conforte's other property will go on the auction block Dec. 14 to help pay back taxes. Up for auction will be trinkets, office furniture, television sets, VCRs, restaurant items and other personal property from the Mustang Ranch.

The Bureau of Land Management wants to hold public workshops next year to solicit proposals for the 2.5-mile stretch of property, which borders the Truckee River east of town along U.S. Interstate 80.

Plans call for the federal government to rechannel the Truckee River in the area to enhance flood-control efforts and create wetlands for wildlife.

"We don't care about the buildings and what happens to them," Struble said. "We'll entertain all kinds of ideas for the buildings."

"We could sell them to private parties at auction or let the fire department burn them down as a drill," he said.

A plan to convert the ranch's pink stucco main building into a tourist attraction and research center for wild horses was dropped.

Jay Leno and others made jokes after the idea was first floated by BLM in 1999, but Struble said that had nothing to do with why it was scrapped.

BLM officials instead feared the proposed center's proximity to the river would contribute to water pollution and put horses in danger during floods.

"It was kind of a cute coincidence that it was Mustang Ranch and here we had mustangs we wanted to put there," Struble said. "But once we really got down and saw the site, Mustang fell way down on the list because of problems."

Now, Mound House, just east of Carson City, is being considered as the leading site for a national wild horse and burro interpretive and research center.

BLM is charged with managing the West's estimated 40,000 wild horses, about half of which are in Nevada. It captures some of the animals and puts them up for adoption to ease overpopulation.


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