PATRICK — Fugitive brothel baron Joe Conforte emerged from seclusion Wednesday to praise the man who plans to reopen his infamous Mustang Ranch bordello.
“Lance Gilman is just the man,” Conforte said in a teleconference from Brazil, where he fled 15 years ago to avoid federal income tax charges.
When he first heard that somebody wanted to reopen the Mustang Ranch, Conforte said, he opposed the idea.
“Slowly I changed my mind,” he said. “Finally, I took completely off my opposition.”
Conforte, a Sicilian immigrant in his 80s, opened the Triangle River Ranch brothel in Wadsworth in 1955 and took over the Mustang Ranch in 1967, which was licensed by Storey County in 1971 as the state’s first legal brothel. Prostitution is currently legal in 12 of Nevada’s 17 counties.
He and his wife Sally were arrested in 1977 for income tax evasion, and Conforte fled the country in 1980.
After a decade of negotiations with the government and attempts to sell the brothel, Conforte fled to Brazil in 1991. He telephoned IRS officials in 2004 with an offer to pay back $500,000 in taxes if he could visit Nevada, but federal prosecutors nixed the deal.
Gilman opened the Wild Horse Resort & Spa just off Interstate 80 and four miles east of the Mustang Ranch in 2003, then set his sights on the pink stucco brothel that was padlocked by the government in August 1999.
The property eventually wound up on eBay and, in a last-minute bidding frenzy, went to Gilman for $145,100.
Gilman has invited the public to attend the Mustang Ranch’s grand reopening Saturday.
He estimates he has spent $5 million to move the dozen sections of the building from Mustang to the nearby town of Patrick and on extensive renovations of the 104 rooms and the parlor.
“We kept the same pink stucco exterior of the buildings and spent a lot of time, thought and effort into decorating the massive entry parlor,” said Susan Austin, the brothel’s madam. “We kept the essence of what was the Mustang Ranch and just greatly enhanced and improved it.”
Unlike the Wild Horse Resort across a parking lot from the Mustang, the reconstituted ranch remains a lineup brothel as it was last century. That means the girls line up in the parlor when a customer walks in. At the Wild Horse, customers mingle informally with prostitutes in a lounge.