The entrance to the Chicken Ranch brothel is viewed in Pahrump on March 31, 2009. (Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP, file)
LAS VEGAS — A national advocacy group and a Nevada lawyer have filed a sweeping federal lawsuit aimed at convincing a judge the nation's only legal brothels are dens of illegal sex trafficking and unconstitutional slavery.
The case filed Friday in Las Vegas by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation names the governor, state attorney general and city and county officials as defendants, along with a brothel in Nye County and hip-hop music figure Jamal "Mally Mall" Rashid.
Rashid, 46, is serving a 33-month federal prison term after pleading guilty to operating a prostitution business disguised as a Las Vegas escort enterprise. Attorneys who represented him in that case did not immediately respond to a message about the lawsuit.
Representatives of Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak, state Attorney General Aaron Ford, Las Vegas and Clark County declined to comment. Officials in Nye County and the Chicken Ranch brothel in Pahrump did not immediately respond to messages.
The lawsuit seeks to abolish Nevada's legal prostitution statutes as unconstitutional and a violation of federal anti-trafficking laws. It asks the court to order reimbursement to victims of "all profits and unjust enrichment obtained as a result."
Plaintiffs Angela Williams and Jane Doe claim they were defrauded and coerced for years in Nevada's legal sex industry, including escort agencies, strip clubs and the brothel about 60 miles outside Las Vegas.
The lawsuit alleges they amounted to indentured servants in violation of the 13th Amendment ban on slavery.
"Nevada does not enforce its limited regulation of prostitution, permitting de facto prostitution to exist through escort bureaus and entertainment by referral service, failing to implement or enforce laws limiting prostitution advertising and failing to prevent the resultant debt bondage in legal brothels," the lawsuit declares.
The Associated Press generally does not name people who say they have been victims of sexual crimes, but Williams' Reno-based attorney, Jason Guinasso, has said she gave consent to be named in lawsuits and news reports.
Williams, originally from Houston, claims she was sex trafficked in Nevada from 2006 to 2017 and once worked for one of Rashid's licensed escort companies.
Guinasso represented Williams in a previous federal lawsuit that invoked sex trafficking laws in a bid to close legal brothels in Nevada. That case was dismissed in October 2019 by U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno.
Guinasso also previously represented a Nevada group, "No Little Girl," that led an unsuccessful campaign in 2018 for a ballot measure to end prostitution in Nevada's Lyon County.
Nevada has about 20 legal bordellos in seven rural counties, where brothel owners argue that state regulation and mandatory health screenings make the women they hire safer than those involved in illegal prostitution.
Prostitution is not legal in the state's two most populous counties, Clark and Washoe, or in the cities of Las Vegas and Reno.
In a statement about the lawsuit, National Center on Sexual Exploitation attorney Christen Price said Nevada's legal prostitution system "inherently contributed to the sex trafficking of these plaintiffs for both the benefit of sex buyers who flock to Nevada and for the profit of Nevada and its tourism industry."
"Compelling someone to engage in prostitution violates federal law, which bans sex trafficking, including coercing people into commercial sex acts," she said.
The lawsuit asserts that Nevada's illegal sex trade generates billions of dollars a year from tourists confused by the rules, dwarfing business at legal brothels.
Local and state governments benefit by collecting entertainment taxes from legal escort agencies, it said.
"Nevada's legalized prostitution system increases the demand for sex," Guinasso said in a statement. He characterized workers at legal brothels as victims of "debt bondage."