In the 14 months since brothel owner Maynard "Joe" Richards pleaded guilty to bribing a Nye County commissioner, the only thing county regulators have done to his licenses is renew them.
Now Richards is poised to sell off two of his three brothels without ever facing a disciplinary hearing in the county.
In a business deal set to close by the end of June, Nevada's best-known brothel owner, Dennis Hof, will buy Richards' two bordellos in the tiny town of Crystal, about 75 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The purchase price was not disclosed, but Hof is already talking about converting the old buildings at the Cherry Patch Ranch and Mabel's Whorehouse into a flesh-trade version of a "destination resort."
The pending sale has renewed complaints from some in Nye County who wonder why Richards is still in business at all, let alone free to sell his licensed brothels to someone else.
"I'm fit to be tied over this," said brothel owner Bobbi Davis, whose Shady Lady Ranch in Nye County made headlines earlier this year by briefly offering the state's first licensed male prostitute. "I've been told for 17 years that if I don't so much as cross my T's and dot my I's, they'll pull my license.
"Why are they doing this? Why are they seeming to protect this guy?"
Richards was indicted in 2006 on two felony counts of wire fraud after he paid then-Nye County Commissioner Candice Trummell $5,000 to rewrite an ordinance that kept him from building a new brothel at the south end of Pahrump.
Trummell was working undercover for the FBI, and the meetings and phone conversations she secretly recorded made the government's case against the brothel owner.
In March 2009, Richards pleaded guilty to one of the charges as part of a deal with federal prosecutors that spared him from prison time.
He began serving his one-year sentence at a Las Vegas halfway house in August, a few days after Nye County's Liquor and Licensing Board told the district attorney's office to start preparations for a hearing on his brothel licenses.
Since then, no such hearing has been held.
Last month, licensing board members briefly considered whether to summon Richards to a meeting, but the matter quietly died when no one on the board would make a motion to proceed.
Like Davis, Trummell doesn't understand what is taking so long.
"I continue to be amazed by the fact the Nye County Commission provides such blatant favors to someone who has admitted to attempting to bribe a public official," the former commissioner said.
Trummell thinks the commission's unwillingness to act sets a dubious precedent. If Richards gets to keep his license, she said, "Nye County will be hard-pressed to ever deny a brothel license in the future."
The licensing board is made up of the county's five commissioners and its top lawman, but county Sheriff Tony DeMeo has excused himself from the Richards matter because he is so familiar with the federal case against the brothel owner.
DeMeo said revoking a brothel license is no simple matter. It requires a period of evidence gathering followed by a "show-cause hearing," which he described as "a trial in itself for the license."
In this case, though, the evidence seems plentiful, DeMeo said. "I don't understand why it's dragged on as long as it has. It should have been resolved a long time ago."
County Commissioners Joni Eastley and Lorinda Wichman insist they are following the advice of legal counsel.
Eastley said the district attorney's office has been urging the licensing board not to do anything to Richards' licenses beyond the routine quarterly renewal until after his appeal of his sentence is decided.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear Richards' case on June 7.
"It's probably erring on the side of caution," Wichman said of the delay.
She added that she expects the licensing board to act quickly once they know for sure that Richards' guilty plea will stand. "In my opinion, it's pretty cut and dried."
District Attorney Bob Beckett referred all questions on the matter to Marla Zlotek, one of his senior deputies. Repeated messages left for Zlotek were not returned.
DeMeo said he would think county officials would be eager to take action, given the nature of Richards' crime and suspicions that might raise in the minds of county residents.
"Somewhere along the line, there has to be some kind of adjudication," the sheriff said. "If you don't take any action on this, it gives the appearance of impropriety."
Wichman acknowledged that the county's inaction might seem questionable to some people. But she said that she can't control public opinion and that he can't allow it to influence the way she performs her elected duties.
"I'm not worried about that," Wichman said. "You do the best job you can as quickly as you can, and you do it as openly as possible."
Richards doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.
"I'm not getting any special treatment. They're following the law," he said of the licensing board.
Hof said he has to apply for his own brothel licenses in Nye County, so it doesn't really matter to him what the board decides to do about Richards.
It will make for a "better transition" if the brothels in Crystal are still open when the sale goes through, Hof said, but "it's not going to effect my plans one way or another."
Hof owns two brothels in Lyon County, east of Carson City, but he is best-known for the Moonlite Bunny Ranch and the long-running HBO reality show that is filmed there.
He said he hopes to apply for his brothel licenses in Nye County within the next week and close the deal to buy Richards' properties within 45 days.
Richards said the pending sale includes all of his holdings in Crystal -- the two brothels, two bars, two restaurants and more than 40 acres of property -- but he plans to keep his brothel on U.S. Highway 95 at Lathrop Wells.
He also will keep the strip club and weekly newspaper he owns in Pahrump.
"I'm going to concentrate on my newspaper," said Richards, whose sentence allows him to leave the halfway house in Las Vegas during the day to tend to his businesses in Nye County.
Hof said he intends to "put Crystal, Nevada, on the map" by turning the bordellos there into a "an oasis in the desert."
To help him with that, he has recruited his friend Heidi Fleiss as a consultant, but she won't be involved in the day-to-day operations.
"Between the two of us, I'm sure we're going to come up with something nice," Hof said of the former Hollywood madam turned Pahrump laundromat owner.
He also plans to use his first foray into Southern Nevada's legal brothel business to campaign against the rampant sex trade in nearby Clark County, where prostitution is illegal.
"Believe me, Las Vegas will know I'm there," said Hof, who lives in Lyon County, roughly 5½ hours by car from Crystal.
"I'm excited for the opportunity. Now I've got to buy an airplane."
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350.