Mustang Joe

August 22nd, 2016
Back Mustang Joe

One of my favorite rock and roll songs is 'Mustang Sally.'  A lot of top performers including Elvis Presley and Joe Cocker recorded it.  As far as I am concerned, it's still one of the best songs to dance to ever written.

But I think the songwriters made a mistake when they failed to write a song about Joe Conforte, the man who made prostitution legal in Nevada.

Today Conforte is 89 and living in Rio de Janiero.  His past is so notorious it would be unbelievable if David Toll, an author who lives in Virginia City, NV., hadn't written a book about his life called 'Breaks, Brains & Balls.'

If a contest was held to choose the biggest gambler of all time, Joe Conforte would make the final table.

Born in Sicily, he grew up tough and nearly fearless.

From an early age, he thought prostitution should be legal. He researched the law, pulled some strings, bribed a few officials, teamed up with good attorneys and opened the now famous Mustang Ranch in Storey County, NV. 

There he hired girls from many walks of life -- beautiful women -- to service his customers.

Joe made a lot of money for himself.  He spent part of it bribing many officials including judges and state legislators -- to let his brothel stay open.  He spent a lot of money gambling at blackjack, poker and dice.  And he lived a life as free ass a bird.  Make that a vulture.

Conforte was arrrested many times on charges ranging from operating a house of prostitution to murder and income tax evasion.  But because he was lucky and well connected, he beat most of the charges.


One of the highest publicized cases involving Joe was the killing of a boxer named Oscar Bonavena who was shot to death while visiting the Mustang Ranch.

A security guard named Ross Brymer shot Bonavena when they got into an altercation at the entrance to the ranch.   He was charged with murder.  He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and served 15 months.

In the book 'Breaks,, Brains & Balls,' Conforte is remarkably candid as he talks about the people he bribed to stay in business.  He even admits to bribing state and federal judges as well as contributing money to state legislators who were in position to help him.

Joe finally was convicted of a crime and was sentenced to Nevada State Prison. He spent three years behind bars and was a big shot in a prison filled with men whose luck had run out.  

When he was released, he went back to work running the Mustang and gambling.  By his own account, he was a system player whose system did not always work. No problem. The Mustang Ranch was a money-maker and Conforte always had cash coming in.

Joe smoked big cigars. He was generous with his cash and always had young beautiful women as his companions.  He valued loyalty and respected people with brains and guts.

Time after time, the federal government and his political enemies tried to shut him down.  But Conforte always stayed a step ahead of them.  Even when his place was torched by an arsonist, Joe had an ace in the hole and quickly replaced the burned-out trailers.

When his luck ran out and he was facing a long prison term, he skipped the country. Using false documents including forged passports, he fled to Chile, Argentina and Brazil, leaving people behind that he trusted to run the Mustang.  He kept his funds in a Swiss bank account.  

When he arrived in a foreign country like Argentina, he found out who was in charged and bribed them so he could stay.  A little cash -- sometimes a lot -- placed in the right hands guaranteed him freedom, he discovered.


Today Conforte is approaching his 90th birthday and he is as feisty as ever. Recovering from a heart attack, he lived in a penthouse apartment in Rio. He has a young female companion and his two daughter live with him.  

Let David Toll describe Conforte's surroundings in the city where the Olympic games were just held,  The following paragraphs were lifted from his book about Joe in the final chapter, 'Afterword'.

''It's spectacularly beautiful here. To the right, thickly jungled mountainsides lunge up into a sky full of slow-moving cloudbundles; to the left the Atlantic Ocean heaves ceaselessly against a broad sandy beach the color of honey down below.''

''Joe Conforte lives here like a king and as I discovered in the course of my week there, living like a king is actually quite pleasant. There's the view, of course, and the spacious apartment --I'm in the guestroom upstairs with the Jacuzzi, the patio and the pool.  There's the cook, the maid and the driver, and the squadron of personal assistants.  Joe is retired, living on the income from his real estate investments. He says he spends  $25,000 a month to maintain his lifestyle, and most of the investments are in Rio.''

''He's had a heart attack and has a pacemaker now, but he's still got a sparkle in his eye and a beautiful young protegee to go along with it.  As I was preparing to leave for home to work on the manuscript, Joe called to me, 'David, put this in the book.  I'm living in Paradise. I'm spending all my time playing bridge and f---ing girls.''

''In other words, living happily ever after.''


“If a contest was held to choose the biggest gambler of all time, Joe Conforte would make the final table”

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