Brothels fire back at Harry Reid

Nevada legislators sat in stunned silence when U.S. Sen. Harry Reid proposed outlawing the state’s brothels last week, but the working girls and brothel employees are speaking loud and clear.

They suggest the Senate majority leader should clean up Las Vegas’ illegal prostitution if he’s serious about polishing the Silver State’s tarnished image.

They say Sin City is where the five-term senator should find offense — with its illegal, exploitative, dangerous and flourishing sex trade — rather than on the legal, safe and taxpaying brothels that dot the rural landscape of 10 of the state’s 17 counties.

That’s the typical response offered up last week after Reid suggested the time had come to close down the 25 or so rural Nevada houses of prostitution — the only place in the United States where they exist.

"This is a non-important issue," said longtime state Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora. "We have to deal with education, the budget, public lands, water, rural health. We’ve got our plate full."

"Stunned silence, I think, would best describe our reaction," said Sen. Mike McGinness, R-Fallon.

They said there is no appetite in Carson City to close down the industry.

The View from the Brothels

The true image killer isn’t legal sex for sale, say those who work in brothels, but the illegal sex that’s sold in Las Vegas.

"That’s the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about," said "Rio," the manager of the Love Ranch brothel in Crystal, about 20 miles north of Pahrump on state Route 160.

Rio, who spent 14 years as a working girl in legal brothels, said prostitution should be legal and regulated in every state, not abolished in the only state it is currently allowed. "You make it legal in every state and you take working girls off the streets," she said. "You eliminate the pimps that beat them up and take all their money."

For the working girls — they prefer that term to prostitute — life in a legal brothel is, more than anything else, a safe haven.

"I do this because it’s a very safe environment," said Karmen Leigh, 41. "I’m not willing to risk the streets. I’ve heard the horror stories."

She, too, thinks Reid should focus on illegal prostitution, the human trafficking of women and girls, the fact the ubiquitous escorts don’t get checked for sexually transmitted diseases, as they are weekly in the brothels.

"If I could tell Larry Reid or whatever his name is — I’m not really into politics as you can tell — it would be to let the small towns make their money," she said. "The girls with HIV aren’t here. It’s the escorts down in Vegas that bring the disease. If I could just put that to him, I would."

Statistics seem to support her contention. According to Las Vegas police spokesman Bill Cassell, the department’s vice unit made 4,542 arrests in 2010. Of that figure, 2,772 were selling or buying sex; the remainder included arrests for pandering (pimps), grand larceny, "trick rolls" — assaulting a customer and taking their wallet — and other crimes associated with prostitution.

On the books are the names of 500 HIV-positive prostitutes arrested by Las Vegas police over the past several years.

Reid spokesman Zac Petkanas said the senator’s comments were a small part of his speech, and he said Reid is adamantly opposed to illegal prostitution.

"Senator Reid is committed to fighting the illegal sex trade and protecting children (and) securing resources for Nevada’s law enforcement community to combat these crimes" Petkanas said in an e-mail. "He will continue working with Nevada’s law enforcement professionals to bring these perpetrators to justice."

Petkanas declined the opportunity to soften Reid’s comments to lawmakers, but he did explain how the brothel issue was part of a much larger approach to economic development.

"In his speech, Senator Reid identified several concrete steps to get Nevada’s economy on track, including investing in clean energy jobs, improving our education system to train a competitive work force and projecting the right image to attract new business and jobs," Petkanas said.

He reiterated the position Reid staked out Tuesday: "Business leaders have told us that people have difficulty moving their children to an area where they can look out of a school bus window and see a brothel. They may not put out press releases announcing why they didn’t choose Nevada, but it is a very real challenge."

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Brothels typically are tucked out of the way and advertising restrictions prohibit them from posting signs or putting up material that some might consider offensive.

"They fly below the radar," said Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo.

"They’re not in your face, they don’t stick a thumb in your eye and they seem to want to comply with the norms of the counties they are in. They try to be good neighbors."

DeMeo, who also is a member of the county’s liquor and licensing board that oversees Nye’s seven brothels, said about 200 working girls registered with the county in 2010.

He said he respects Reid, but wants individual counties to decide the fate of legal brothels.

The sheriff said major developers were not in the least offended by the presence of brothels during Pahrump’s historic growth spurt between 1994 and 2007, when the town grew by a staggering 28,000 residents and more than tripled in size.

Only once in that time was a serious effort made to shut down the brothels in Pahrump — on moral and religious grounds — and the dust-up had little to do with the actual brothels.

Ron Trummell, a Baptist minister, led the revolt in 2004 after former brothel owner Joe Richards opened an all-nude gentleman’s club right on the main highway, complete with oversized images of nearly naked women on the outside walls and equally risqué billboards to advertise the establishment.

Richards, who recently sold his Crystal brothel to Dennis Hof, waged a 30-year battle with Nye County and Pahrump officials, who kept him from opening additional brothels closer to Pahrump, and the massive client base in Las Vegas.

He opened The Kingdom Gentleman’s Club to spite his adversaries, and nearly killed the goose that lays the golden eggs in the process.

Trummell on Friday said Reid’s call to outlaw brothels will not spark a new effort to ban them in Pahrump. He said he was discouraged and saddened when other pastors refused to support him in the past. He remains, however, in adamant opposition to prostitution, solely on Christian values grounds.

"I don’t buy the economics. I don’t buy these women aren’t victims," he said. "But I’m against prostitution because of the word of God."

Trummell believes the women who work in brothels are exploited and the counties sanction the abuse. "If being a legal prostitute is such a great job, why don’t you ever see them at Pahrump Valley High School on Career Day?"

A Historical Perspective

Brothels existed in Nevada when it was still a territory in the 1850s when silver and gold were discovered in the Comstock, but while other states eventually abolished red light districts, Nevada went in the opposite direction. The modern debate seems to ask: Are Nevada’s brothels a barbarous relic of the past or do they enhance the state’s libertarian, live and let live reputation?

The industry was made somewhat legitimate in 1971 when the infamous Joe Conforte lobbied to have his Mustang Ranch brothel near Reno licensed.

Later that year, lawmakers passed a law banning legal prostitution in counties with more than 400,000 people.

It is in those large counties, however, where the sordid underbelly of illegal prostitution is exposed for the world — and business people — to see, say brothel advocates.

"Illegal prostitution in Las Vegas is the real black eye on the state," said Debbie Rivenburgh, the longtime general manager at the Chicken Ranch brothel located on the outskirts of Pahrump, 60 miles west of Las Vegas.

The Chicken Ranch has a storied history, both bloody and bawdy — it served as the inspiration for "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" — but for decades the well-kept brothel has sat at the end of Homestead Road and minded its own business.

And business has been good.

It’s the Economy, stupid

"We take in several hundred thousand dollars a year," Sheriff DeMeo said of fees paid to the county.

The brothels and working girls, considered independent contractors who are responsible for their own taxes, are licensed quarterly.

The fees vary depending on the size of the operation, but both the brothels and the women pay. Nye County recently doubled its fees. They range quarterly from $5,000 for small brothels with just a few girls to $37,500 for bigger houses such as the Chicken Ranch, with the blessing of owners, DeMeo said.

Much of the money is used to help fund emergency services and a veterans assistance organization, the sheriff said.

In Storey County — home to Virginia City and the Comstock — brothels pay $100,000 a year to stay in business. The figure is just $200 a year in Battle Mountain, the Lander County mining community that straddles Interstate 80 240 miles east of Reno.

And while critics of Reid’s proposal are easy to find — Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman has long advocated legal prostitution in the state’s largest city — the senator does have supporters.

Candice Trummell is the daughter of Ron Trummell, the anti-brothel minister. She was a 25-year-old Republican Nye County Commissioner in 2005 when she wore a wire for the FBI, which was investigating Richards for bribery and wire fraud.

Candice Trummell, who now works in Washington, D.C., officially opposes brothels on moral grounds, and like her father she rebuts those who claim legal prostitutes are safer than their streetwalking counterparts. She is the executive director of the Nevada Coalition Against Sex Trafficking.

"Today Senator Reid stood up for families," Candice Trummell said in an e-mail. "Senator Reid knows what it is like to stand up to corruption. He wore a wire for the FBI just like I did. And while he and I are of different political parties, we both agree that people deserve the right to fair government and women deserve opportunities to earn a livable wage without being forced to succumb to rape multiple times per day."

Reid also has a powerful ally in Steve Wynn, the casino baron who has suggested an end to legal brothels since 1988.

An Exercise in Academics

Banning legal brothels would do nothing to curtail illegal prostitution, said Dr. Kate Korgan, who helped conduct a decade-long study of Nevada’s sex industry. Korgan, a sociologist and associate dean of the graduate college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, co-wrote the recently published "State of Sex: Tourism, Sex and Sin in the New American Heartland" with Barbara Brents, also a UNLV sociologist and professor.

Korgan called Reid’s comments "peculiar," although she agrees Nevada needs to attract jobs.

After 10 years of looking at both legal and illegal prostitution in Nevada, Korgan said she couldn’t understand why Reid would go after brothels when illegal sex is so prevalent.

And she isn’t necessarily against the illegal sex trade, insofar as it contributes to the state’s overall economy.

"The sex trade gives Vegas its unique character," she said, pointing out the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority actually capitalized on the lure of sex with the now iconic "What happens here, stays here" marketing campaign.

"That kind of promotes that image, don’t you think?"

Perhaps Rivenburgh, the general manager at the Chicken Ranch, best explained the brothels’ position thusly: "We provide a valuable service to the working girls and the men, the tourists. They don’t take anything home with them when they come here. There has never been a case of a (legal) HIV-positive prostitute, but there are hundreds of them in Vegas. As for the image problem, it isn’t the brothels that have those people down on the Strip thrusting fliers in people’s faces. It isn’t the brothels with the billboards or the handbills. It isn’t the brothels that have pimps beating up women and children and clients. The Las Vegas Strip is where the image problem is."

A working girl named Alicia puts it even more succinctly: "This is Nevada. Aren’t we all about girls, gambling and partying? Isn’t that the image we’ve projected for decades?"

Contact Doug McMurdo at or 702-224-5512.

Memorial service for former RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber
Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's former lawyer and defender of the First Amendment, died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23. Hinueber, who was 66, worked at the RJ and other newspapers for 42 years. On Saturday, his friends and family gathered for a memorial service.
Army veteran honored in Henderson event
Army Sgt. Adam Poppenhouse was honored by fellow veterans in an event hosted by a One Hero at a Time at the Henderson Events Center.
Michelle Obama and Keegan-Michael Key urge Nevadans to vote
Former first lady Michelle Obama and comedian Keegan-Michael Key urged Nevadans to vote at Chaparral High School in Las Vegas Sunday, Sep. 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
Nevada Task Force One Cheers Golden Knights
1 dead, 1 wounded in North Las Vegas standoff
A woman was hospitalized with serious injuries on Thursday morning after being shot inside a North Las Vegas house. Police responded about 11 p.m. to a shooting at a home on the 5600 block of Tropic Breeze Street, near Ann Road and Bruce Street. The wounded woman, police believe, was shot by a man, who later barricaded himself inside the house. SWAT was called to assist, and when officers entered the house, they discovered the man dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Las Vegas Teen Makes Clothing Resale His Side Hustle
Las Vegas resident Reanu Elises, 18, started buying and selling streetwear online when he was a high school junior. Like many other young adults, the world of online resale applications like Depop and Mercari have made selling clothing online for a profit easy. Now, Elises spends his free time at thrift shops looking for rare and vintage clothing he can list on his on his shop. Now in his freshman year at UNLV as a business marketing major, Elises hopes to open a shop of his own one day and start his own clothing brand. He estimates that he's made about $1000 from just thrifted finds in the past year, which he'll use to buy more thrift clothing and help pay for expenses in college. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Fruition Vineyards Encourages Young Entrepreneurs to "Buy, Flip, Dream"
Once a month, young adults gather at Fruition Vineyards on South Maryland Parkway near UNLV to dig through a stack of rare, vintage and designer clothing that's marked down well below it's resale value. Shop founder Valerie Julian began the vent, dubbed "Fruition Vineyards" in August after running her streetwear shop since 2005. The event gives young entrepreneurs the opportunity to "buy, flip, dream" according to Jean. Meaning that they're encouraged to buy the clothing for sale and find a way to resell it for a profit, then reinvest that into whatever dream they pursue: college, a hobby or their own resale business. Shoppers lined up starting an hour before noon on the last Saturday in April for the opportunity and spoke about what they hoped to do with their finds and profits. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
Local man goes under cover searching for answers to homelessness
Licensed mental health therapist Sheldon Jacobs spent 48 hours under cover posing as a homeless man in an attempt to gain perspective on the complex issue.
Social Work UNLV Lecturer's Calling
Ivet Aldaba-Valera was the first person in her family to graduate from both high school and college. The 33-year-old UNLV lecturer is now pursuing her Ph. D in public policy at the school and has used her degree in social work to engage with the young Latino and Latina community of Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
The world's longest racetrack could be coming to Pahrump
Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club in Pahrump might be the first racetrack in the world longer than 16 miles long once the expansion is complete. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Gold Point townsperson talks about why he choose to live in a ghost town
Gold Point townsperson Walt Kremin talks about the ghost town in Nevada he calls home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Search for missing 3-year-old boy at Sunset Park
Las Vegas police and Red Rock Search and Rescue team search for a missing child at Sunset Park in southeast Las Vegas on Sunday, Sept.2, 2018. (Chitose Suzuki/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaks at Las Vegas tech conference
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in Pakistan after advocating for girls' education, spoke at VMworld 2018 at Mandalay Bay. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren addresses Oct. 1 lawsuits
MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren addresses criticism his company has received for filing a lawsuit against the survivors of the Oct. 1 shooting. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Father recalls the night his 14-year-old son died jumping into moving traffic
From the Clark County Detention Center, Ezequiel Anorve Serrano talks about the night his 14-year-old son, Silas Anorve, died jumping into moving traffic on U.S. 95. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Palace Station unveils new sports book
Palace Station talks about the new sports book Thursday, August 23, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
One of world's longest racetracks planned in Pahrump by 2020
The racetrack will be 16 miles long by the year 2020 according to Spring Mountain Motor Resort and Country Club owner John Morris. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Henderson police bodycam footage of officer-involved shooting
Henderson police released body-worn camera footage of an officer-involved shooting in a grocery store parking lot at 2667 Windmill Parkway on Aug. 12, 2018. (Henderson Police Department)
Robotics takes off at Las Vegas Academy
Las Vegas Academy’s robotics team made it all the way to the world competition last year, the first year the team competed. Zackary Perry describes how they programmed their robot to compete. The team is an example of what Tesla wants to have in every school in the state. (Meghin Delaney/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bicyclist suffers major head trauma in hit-and-run
A bicyclist was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries after a Thursday morning hit-and-run crash near the school formerly known as Agassi Prep. Police said the bicyclist was hit by a white SUV, which fled the scene. The injured man suffered multiple injuries including major head trauma. As of 9 a.m., Lake Mead remained closed between Martin Luther King and Revere Street while police investigate.
Las Vegas artist Dave Dave dies at 42
Dave Dave talks about his art and his life in 2016. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dave Dave, whose dad set him on fire in 1983, dies
Dave Dave, a respected Las Vegas artist who was badly scarred as a boy when his father tried to burn him to death in Southern California, died at Sunrise Hospital on July 15. He was 42. When he was 6, Dave's father tried to kill him by setting him on fire. He was given a sleeping pill and his bed at a Buena Park, California, motel was doused with kerosene. “I remembered being in a lot of pain,” Dave told the Review-Journal in 2016. “When stuff happens to you at that young of an age, you tend to block it out, but I remember the pain was excruciating.” Dave, who was born David Rothenberg, became close friends with Michael Jackson, who met him after the attack, which burned more than 90 percent of his body. “I wanted to meet him, and he wanted to meet me, and that just turned into a lifelong relationship that never ended,” Dave said. “It was amazing being friends with Michael Jackson. He was an amazing person.” Dave attended ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, and collaborated with various artists around Las Vegas, eventually selling his art to private collectors. Despite his challenges, he continued to live, thrive and create. Dave Dave
Homicide detectives investigate woman's death
Las Vegas police were called to Tahiti Village Resort early Wednesday after calls that someone had been shot. Police found a woman’s body between a parking garage and boiler room on the resort's property. A guest first reported hearing gunfire. There are no witnesses, but police will examine surveillance videos and look for clues. The woman was not identified, but a purse was found near the body. She did not appear to be a guest at the resort.
LVMPD Discusses Ross Dress for Less Shooting
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank discussed the 15th officer-involved shooting of the year at a press conference at Metro headquarters on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The active-shooter incident took place at the Ross Dress for Less store at the 4000 block Blue Diamond Road in the south Las Vegas Valley. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Asst. Sheriff Brett Zimmerman on Aug. 8 officer-involved shooting
Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Brett Zimmerman met with media Monday to discuss the details of the 14th officer-involved shooting of the year. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County School Board president Deanna Wright on travel expenses
Clark County School Board President Deanna Wright says she followed proper expense protocol in trip to Florida last year.
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program
Matt Kelly Elementary School hosted its third annual Back-to-School Red Carpet Program where community and business leaders joined to welcome students back with an inspirational welcome. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Shooting leaves 1 dead in southeast valley
A man was found fatally shot in the doorway of a squatter apartment after an argument ended in gunfire on Sunday night. Officers responded about 10:30 p.m. to the Silver Pines apartments and discovered the man in a breezeway in one of the buildings. The wounded man died at the scene, despite the efforts of another person, who tried to administer medical aid. Witnesses saw a man and a woman flee the scene, but were unable to give police a clear description.
North Las Vegas unveils new school crosswalk
North Las Vegas councilman Isaac Barron talks about the new school crosswalk in front of CP Squires Elementary School Monday, August 6, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
LVMPD Briefing on OIS #13
Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly held a press conference to discuss details of the 13th officer-involved-shoot for the department in 2018. Video shows the moments before the suspect was shot. The shooting, which has been edited out, occurred as the suspect lunged at an officer outside the apartment. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Politics Today: Brett Kavanaugh And Trump
Nevada Politics Today host Victor Joecks and Review-Journal columnist Debra J Saunders talk about Brett Kavanaugh and Trumps visit to Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today: Brett Kavanaugh And Trump
Nevada Politics Today host Victor Joecks and Review-Journal columnist Debra J Saunders talk about Brett Kavanaugh and Trumps visit to Nevada.
Michael Ramirez Joins The Review-Journal Team
Pulitzer prize winning political cartoonist Michael Ramirez talks about joining the Review-Journal and how he started his career.
Nevada Politics Today: Danny Tarkanian
The federal government should create a high-risk pool for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Susie Lee, the Democrat running for Congressional District 3 is against ICE. She’s also ducking debates, despite once challenging her opponent to debate her. That’s according to Danny Tarkanian, the Republican nominee for CD3.
Nevada Politics Today: Danny Tarkanian
The federal government should create a high-risk pool for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Susie Lee, the Democrat running for Congressional District 3 is against ICE. She’s also ducking debates, despite once challenging her opponent to debate her. That’s according to Danny Tarkanian, the Republican nominee for CD3.
Vice President Mike Pence visits Nellis Air Force Base
During his second visit to Nevada, Vice President Mike Pence spoke to airmen inside a Nellis Air Force Base hangar and spent the afternoon campaigning for GOP Sen. Dean Heller and gubernatorial nominee Adam Laxalt.
Nevada Politics Today: Karen Wayland
Nevada Politics Today: Asm. Jim Marchant
Asm. Marchant talks about education, voter integrity and running for leadership Nevada should increase funding for Career and Technical Education, but shouldn’t automatically register voters at the DMV. Assembly Republicans will also oppose tax increases next legislative session. That’s according to Assemblyman Jim Marchant.
Nevada Politics Today: Asm. Pickard talks about taking on LVCVA, taxes and Read by 3
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority CEO Rossi Ralenkotter shouldn’t get a “golden parachute.” Tax increases aren’t necessary, but if politicians want an increase they should send it to voters. Read by Three needs a chance to work, even if it holds back thousands of third graders. That’s according to Senate district 20 candidate and Assemblyman Keith Pickard.
The Right Take: Long-time, high-ranking employee sues CCSD
Start with who filed it. Goldman has worked for the district for 38 years, including 20 years as its chief negotiator. Next, move on to who he’s suing. That list includes the district, former-superintendent Pat Skorkowsky and two board members.
Nevada Politics Today: Nevada School Choice Coalition
Minority parents in Nevada strongly support school choice, and elected officials are taking notice. School choice is also a way to help modernize education. That’s according to Valeria Gurr, director of Nevada School Choice Coalition.
Nevada Politics Today: Jammal Lemy
The call by March for Our Lives to ban semi-automatic assault weapons is a conversation starter, not a defined policy proposal. The country needs to talk about finding ways to end gun violence, but the NRA has blood on its hands for opposing gun-control legislation. That’s according to March for Our Lives creative director Jammal Lemy.
The Right Take: Why is CCSD out of money?
Nevada’s education establishment hopes you’re bad at history. Otherwise, you’ll identify what’s missing in its push for more funding.
Nevada Politics Today: Thomas Jipping
Nevada Politics Today video host Victor Joecks talks with Senior legal fellow at Heritage Foundation, Thomas Jipping.
The Right Take: Clark County residents love illegal fireworks
If you were here last Wednesday, you saw, heard or felt some of the tens of thousands of illegal fireworks set off in the Vegas Valley.
Heller speaks during an interview with the RJ
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., speaks during an interview with the Las Vegas-Review-Journal
Nevada Politics Today: Hardeep “Dee” Sull
Nevada Politics Today video host Victor Joecks sits down with Hardeep Sull to discuss immigration and the border wall.
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like