Conforte safe has only mud -- Cabin in the Sky owner gives $3,000 to charity

It took almost a half hour with an electric ban saw to cut the top off a safe found in the floor of the Cabin in The Sky Restaurant Saturday night, only to find wet, orange mud inside.

A crowd of about 300 encircled the dirty cylinder while it was being opened. It appeared to have been left by brothel boss Joe Conforte when he fled the country in 1981.

"Don't cut the diamonds in half," someone yelled from the crowd.

"Watch that money," yelled another. "Don't burn it!"

The Cabin in the Sky's new owner, Mark Hoffman, said he heard something clank when he broke the safe out of the ground Friday.

"Maybe it's a pistol," said Dutch Coonse, a Carson City man who rode out with his raffle ticket on a 1948 Harley Davidson. "I need another gun."

His wife Patty rode her 1977 Harley sportser trike.

"If we win and it's a lot of money --Echange our names in the paper," she said with a laugh.

Nine-year-old Dayton Elementary School student Sebastian Bowen watched with eyes wide. He said he imagined gold was inside.

As the cut neared completion, Hoffman had a boy from the crowd draw the winning ticket. He read the name of the person who would win whatever was inside.

"And the winner is -- you're not going to believe this -- Joe Conforte." He joked about the man who fled to Brazil leaving behind the Cabin in the Sky as well as his infamous Mustang Ranch brothel and two Sparks homes. They were then seized by the government to pay his back taxes.

The actual winner was Tom Radabaugh of Dayton, a safety inventory captain at Home Depot.

"Aren't you supposed to be wearing safety goggles?" he asked Lupin Garcia who was doing the cutting.

"Easy now," said Garcia of Q & D Construction in Reno. "I'm off duty."

Just before the lid came off Hoffman presented three $1,000 checks to area charities --Eone for Virginia City's Community Chest, one for Carson's Boys & Girl's Club and one for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Radabaugh and his wife, Sheila, approached as the lid fell away. Inside was a loose metal lid to an inner-chamber, a key, a tiny soft metal ring and about a cup of rusty mud.

"The key goes to a safety deposit box!" someone hollered. "But where is the box?"

"Costa Rica!" yelled Garcia.

"At least the money went to some benefits," said Sheila Radabaugh.

The key appeared to match another one stuck in the lid of the inner chamber. The ring may have once held the keys together.

"A lot of kids are going to be able to realize their dreams because of each and everyone of you," said Hoffman to the crowd. "This wasn't a failure at all."

He said he raised well over $3,000 selling the $10 raffle tickets.

He bought the 3,100 square-foot restaurant from the Internal Revenue Service for $88,000 in December. At the time he said he didn't know who Joe Conforte is.


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