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April 20, 2014

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Brothel baron Conforte gone but not forgotten

VIRGINIA CITY -- Prostitution has always played a part in politics in tiny Storey County.

When Joe Conforte reigned as the king of bordellos in Nevada, he wielded a strong influence in who was elected in the county where he ran two brothels.

Conforte has been living outside the United States for nearly five years but he again has become an issue in a race for county commissioner in Storey County, with tie-ins to a brothel in Pahrump and a home in Las Vegas.

A suit was filed July 31 to try to prevent two-term County Commissioner Shirley Colletti from appearing on the ballot in the upcoming election on grounds that she is not living in Storey County.

Storey concerns cited

The suit was brought by W.B. "Bill" Hollis, who says Colletti is living in Las Vegas with Jim Miltenberger, operator of the Sheri's Ranch brothel in Pahrump. It says Colletti "has paid little attention as possible to the affairs of Storey County, being more interested in activities at a house of ill repute in Pahrump."

Hollis, in his suit, says, "One cannot fully appreciate the great and growing concerns of Storey County when one (Colletti) is cruising in the Bahamas, on the beach in San Diego, sipping a toddy in Palm Springs or counting the towels in the house of ill repute in Pahrump."

Colletti called the suit "a bunch of crap," and said the people of Storey County won't go for this tactic.

"I have a right to leave and come and go," she said, noting that she owns two homes in Storey County, her vehicles are registered in Storey County and she maintains her voting registration there.

Colletti has hinted that Conforte, with whom she had a falling out, is behind the move to unseat her.

Colletti was formerly married to John Colletti, who was a bodyguard and driver for Conforte. And she was "consulting manager" at the Mustang Ranch, one of the bordellos formerly owned by Conforte. It's unclear whether she was fired or resigned from that job.

Hollis works in the souvenir shop at the Mustang. He denies he's a pawn for Conforte but says, "Joe may be gone but he's not forgotten. He still has political juice.

"Joe did a lot for this area and he was like the Godfather," said Hollis, who has lived in Storey County for eight years, coming from Seattle where he said he was an aerospace scientist.

Colletti has alleged that Hollis' lawyer, Sam Bull, has past ties to Conforte. But Bull said his only contact with Conforte was when he sold him his home.

The three-member Storey County Commission holds its meetings twice a month on Tuesdays. Hollis contends that Colletti flies to Reno Monday night from Las Vegas, stays with her daughter at a home in Lockwood, attends the meeting and then returns to Las Vegas.

He said she has missed about six meetings in the last 18 months. But Colletti, reached in Las Vegas Saturday, said she has made most of the meetings.

George Flint, a lobbyist for the Nevada Brothel Industry, said Colletti has been a "true anchor of strength" in the past in helping Storey County to gain industry and roads. But he said, "This is a classic example of a phantom representative. No question she's at the meetings but is invisible the rest of the time."

Hollis alleges that on July 17 Colletti had a moving company haul her belongings and furniture to Miltenberger's home in Las Vegas.

One thing that upsets Hollis is that a landfill company has been allowed to expand and move to within several hundred feet of Storey County homes.

"Some of these people are not happy and some of them are Joe's (Conforte's) friends. Were Joe here, that would not have happened."

He blames Colletti. Hollis said Colletti has made Conforte an issue in the campaign.

"She is quoted as saying that Joe does not like people that go against him, and that's what happened to her."

Hollis insists he's doing this on his own and not as a shill for Conforte.

"I don't have his money and if the man was here and was behind all this, I would say so."

Conforte's brothels were taken over by the Bankruptcy Court and sold for back taxes. They are now owned by a company called AGE Interprises. But the rumors persist that Conforte, from some faraway country, still may be calling the shots.

In June of this year, a federal grand jury in Reno indicted Conforte and his attorney on fraud charges in an alleged scheme to buy the Mustang Ranch in the 1990 bankruptcy auction. The indictment says Conforte opened a Swiss bank account under a phony name and then transferred $1.8 million to a company called Mustang Properties that purchased the property at the auction for $1.49 million.

The bordello business was once the major taxpayer in Storey County, accounting for more than 12 percent of the tax collections. But that has faded somewhat in recent years as new industry and residents have moved into the county, which borders Washoe County.

Mustang supporters fear reprisals

Supporters of the Mustang businesses, while refusing to talk publicly, privately say they fear the re-election of Colletti might mean reprisals. They suggest she could start a drive to either increase their taxes or even outlaw them altogether.

Colletti refuses to discuss the issue, saying her attorney, Geno Menchetti, has asked her not to comment.

Colletti will take on fellow Democrat Joe Haynes in the primary election Sept. 3. Seeking the GOP nomination are Carl Trink, Pete Pardini and Phillip O'ldani.

So far, Hollis' suit is in its preliminary stages and has not been assigned to either District Judges Mike Fondi or Mike Griffin. But Bull filed a motion Friday asking for the case to be speeded up and an early hearing to be set.

Conforte