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Joe Conforte (born 1926) was the owner of the Mustang Ranch, a Nevada brothel that was the first legal brothel in the United States. The brothel was closed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 1999, but is now reopened under new management. He is portrayed by Joe Pesci in the 2010 film Love Ranch.

Joe Conforte
Born1926 (age 92–93)
OccupationBrothel Owner
Known forRunning the Mustang Ranch brothel; fleeing the country when convicted of tax fraud
Spouse(s)Sally Burgess Conforte


Early lifeEdit

Joe Conforte was born in 1926 in Augusta, a little city close to Catania in Sicily. He immigrated with his family to the United States in 1937 and settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts.[1]

During World War II and into the early 1950s, Conforte was a cab driver in Oakland, California. He drove soldiers from the Oakland Army Base, and sailors and marines from the Oakland Naval Supply Depot and Alameda Naval Air Station, to brothels on the border of Alameda County and Contra Costa County, adjacent to the site of what is now a shopping center, El Cerrito Plaza.[citation needed]

Brothels in NevadaEdit

Triangle River RanchEdit

Conforte moved to Nevada in 1955 and opened the Triangle River Ranch, also known simply as the Triangle Ranch, in Wadsworth. It was an illegal brothel at the junction of Washoe, Storey, and Lyon counties, hence the name. So the story goes, the Triangle Ranch was housed in a trailer. When the Washoe County sheriff declared the brothel a public nuisance and went to shut it down, Conforte would haul the trailer over to Storey County. When the Storey County sheriff came after him, Conforte would then move the trailer to Lyon County. By the time the bordello had become a public nuisance in Lyon County, Conforte felt enough time had passed that it would be safe to return the trailer to Washoe County. In 1959, then Washoe County District Attorney Bill Raggio, summarily had the ranch burned down after Conforte tried to extort money from him. [2] Conforte was convicted for this and served 22 months in jail. In 1963, convicted of the crime of income tax evasion, Conforte served two and a half years in prison.[citation needed]

Mustang RanchEdit

Joe Conforte and his wife, Sally Burgess Conforte took over the Mustang Bridge Ranch in Storey County in 1967 (the name of the brothel was later changed to Mustang Ranch.) In 1971, Storey County made prostitution legal and licensed Conforte as a brothel owner. Conforte paid bellmen at the famous Mapes Hotel to direct guests to the legal brothel.[citation needed] In 1973 Conforte made a cameo appearance as himself in the Don Siegel film Charley Varrick, which starred Walter Matthau.

Legal problemsEdit

In April 1977, Joe and Sally Conforte were arrested on ten counts of income tax evasion. She was fined $10,000 and given a suspended sentence; he faced a minimum five years in prison and $10,000 fine. Conforte appealed his conviction but fled the country in 1980 when he lost the appeal. He later returned and served a reduced sentence.[3]

Flight to BrazilEdit

Conforte fled to Brazil in 1991, ahead of a federal grand jury handing up numerous indictments in 1995 and 1998. The Brazilian Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the extradition treaty between Brazil and the United States did not cover bankruptcy fraud.[4] He still lives there now.[citation needed]


Conforte's first wife, Sally, died in 1992.[5] He has two daughters (born c. 1992 and 1995) with his second wife and one other daughter with a woman in Nevada.[4]


  1. ^ Bradlee, Ben Jr. (1985-04-15). "For Sale: One Legal Bordello... Asking $25 Million". Boston Globe.
  2. ^ "Bill Raggio, unequaled master of the Nevada Legislature, dies at 85".
  3. ^ "U.S. Frees Brothel Owner". New York Times. 1984-12-13.
  4. ^ a b Meehan Breen, Erin (2004-05-29). "Conforte in exile". The Reno Gazette-Journal. (Archived at ZoomInfo)
  5. ^ "Sally Conforte; Former Madam of Mustang Ranch Brothel". Los Angeles Times. 1992-09-11. p. 26.