PAHRUMP -- Nye County regulators have agreed to let brothel owner Maynard "Joe" Richards stay in business, even after he admitted bribing one of their own.
Citing Richards' otherwise "unblemished" record stretching back 30 years, the Nye County Licensing and Liquor Board voted unanimously Tuesday to let him keep his licenses as long as he pays a $50,000 fine and stays out of trouble for the next four years.
The board, which includes the five-member County Commission and the sheriff, could have revoked Richards' brothel license, effectively shutting down his bordello off U.S. Highway 95 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Instead, County Commissioner Joni Eastley argued that Richards should be allowed to stay in business because he poses no threat to the community.
But the brothel owner did not escape completely unscathed. Eastley recommended the fine and a probationary period to last until 2014, though she did not spell out the terms of the probation.
"Mr. Richards has admitted to committing a felony," she said. "The board cannot ignore that."
Eastley said she considered at least a temporary closure of Richards' Cherry Patch 2 brothel, but she rejected that idea because it would hurt his employees.
"If we put him out of business, those people are out of work," she said.
Bobbi Davis, who owns the Shady Lady Ranch brothel in central Nye County, said her competitor got off easy.
"They should have taken his license," Davis said. "They keep telling us what a privilege this license is. Now they let a convicted felon keep his?
"If they're not on the take, they're sure making everyone think they are," she said.
The board also voted Tuesday to let Richards keep his liquor license for the castle-themed strip club he built at one of Pahrump's busier intersections.
Both votes were unanimous, with Lt. Frank Jarvis filling in for Sheriff Tony DeMeo, who removed himself from the case because of his inside knowledge of the FBI's investigation of Richards.
The brothel owner was indicted in 2006 on two felony counts of federal wire fraud after he paid then-Commissioner Candice Trummell $5,000 to rewrite an ordinance that had kept him from building a new house of prostitution at the south end of Pahrump.
Trummell was working as an FBI informant, and the meetings and phone conversations she secretly recorded made the government's case against Richards.
In March 2009, Richards pleaded guilty to one of the charges as part of a deal with federal prosecutors that spared him prison time.
He has since served a one-year term of so-called community confinement at a Las Vegas area halfway house.
Richards recently sold two of his three Nye County bordellos to Northern Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof, whose Moonlite Bunny Ranch east of Carson City is featured in the HBO reality show "Cathouse."
Tuesday's hearing was conducted in fits and starts, and came after more than a year of procedural delays. The board recessed for about 30 minutes before each of Eastley's motions.
Richards did not attend the hearing. His attorney, Todd Leventhal, tried to halt the proceeding before it began, citing an unsettled legal challenge he filed in Pahrump District Court.
Leventhal said he was "not prepared to participate" in the hearing until District Judge Robert Lane rules on his challenge.
As it turned out, he didn't need to participate.
After the hearing, Leventhal said it would be up to Richards to decide whether to pay the $50,000 fine and move on or continue with the legal challenge.
If he does decide to fight, an angry Davis predicted another win for Richards.
"I always heard Nye County was crooked. I guess it's true," she said. "It's crooked as hell."
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.