Last traces of Mustang Ranch brothel headed for auction on eBay
June 14, 2003
RENO — The last time federal officials held an auction at the former Mustang Ranch brothel they sold everything but the kitchen sink. This time, it’s going too.
The Bureau of Land Management, with the help of surplus property managers for the state of Oregon, intends to auction off the last of the storied bordello’s fixtures and interior furnishings on eBay later this month.
“It’s all new to me. There’s nothing in the BLM manual about selling off a brothel,” said Mark Struble, a BLM spokesman in Carson City.
The Internal Revenue Service auctioned off the last of the real collectibles in December — nude paintings, T-shirts, shot glasses, mirrors and signs.
“The risque stuff is really all gone,” said Cindy Becker, assistant director of Oregon’s Department of Administrative Services.
“It’s just run-of-the-mill stuff, like tile and doors, lamps, appliances, a sink,” she said from Salem, Ore.
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“The only claim to fame is that it came from the Mustang Ranch. Other than that, it’s just a sink.”
More interesting will be an eBay auction to follow for the Mustang Ranch logo and trademark.
“The government feels they own the trademark because it came with the property,” Struble said. “I’m sure there are other businesses in Nevada that might have interest in taking that over.”
The IRS seized the property 15 miles east of Reno in 1999 after guilty verdicts against the Mustang’s parent companies and manager in a federal fraud and racketeering trial. The IRS transferred the property to the BLM in February.
Scott Freeman, a Reno lawyer who represented the Mustang’s manager, said Friday he didn’t recall the brothel’s name and trademark being forfeited along with the property and other assets. But he said he wasn’t aware of anyone who would challenge the sale.
“It may have some value because it is unique to northern Nevada,” Freeman said.
But how much value?
“I haven’t got a clue,” said Terry Randolph, the BLM project manager handling the auction.
“It actually may be worth some money. We’ve had calls from all over the country and even some people in Western Europe. It is known all around the world.”
The IRS netted an estimated $800,000 at the last auction, which included everything from furniture from the kinky “Jungle Room” to television sets and matchbooks.
Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch brothel just east of Carson City, bought more than $20,000 worth of items in December for a museum he plans next to his bordello.
“The Mustang Ranch is part of American history,” Hof said.
BLM officials intended to have the items up for auction by now. They are working out some legal details and hope to have the last of the materials up for sale before the end of June, Randolph said.
“We want to move on this as quickly as we can,” he said.
Oregon became the first state in 1998 to use eBay to help unload surplus property. Since then, a variety of federal agencies have turned to them for help.
“We sold a gold mine for them a year ago. They were very happy with that so they asked if we would help in this respect too,” Becker said. “There’s not much we won’t sell.”
The Mustang Ranch opened in 1955 when prostitution was illegal but became the state’s first legal brothel in 1971. In 1990, hundreds of items were sold at auction to help pay off $13 million in back taxes owned by former owner Joe Conforte, who later fled to avoid tax charges and is believed to be living in Brazil.
Struble said after the buildings are stripped of the whirlpools and other interior furnishings the remaining structures on the 340-acre ranch along the Truckee River will be razed.
“They’ll have to strip it all the way down to the ground and reseed it. We want it to be open public land when this thing is over and done with,” he said.
“We’re open to ideas in the future, maybe a campground or just open space.”
On the Net:
Oregon Department of Administrative Services Surplus Property: http://tpps.das.state.or.us/surplus/
BLM Nevada: http://www.nv.blm.gov/