ELKO — Elko City Council has suspended the brothel license for Mona’s Ranch for 180 days after a hearing called in the wake of the arrest of a bartender on drug charges that included methamphetamine allegedly found in his room at the brothel.
The council motion Tuesday night states that Mona’s Ranch should come back to the council at the end of the 180 days with a business plan and then the city could drop the suspension or decide to revoke the license. The plan would show how the brothel would prevent drugs on the premises.
“We’re on better ground to go for suspension,” Mayor Chris Johnson said after the council defeated a motion from Councilman John Patrick Rice to revoke Mona’s license.
“I think we need to revoke this license. They still have another brothel to depend on,” Rice said, referring to Inez’s D&D in Elko. Looking back at the council’s vote two weeks ago to prohibit the sale of medical and recreational marijuana in the city, Rice said the council would be hypocritical not to revoke the license.
The council also defeated Councilman Robert Schmidtlein’s motion for a 90-day suspension before settling on the 180-day suspension.
“I’m thinking six months,” said council member Mandy Simons.
Mona’s Ranch representatives had hoped the brothel would be put on probation so the business could continue in operation, under scrutiny.
Mona’s Ranch’s attorney, Tony Liker of Elko, contended the owners and management weren’t aware of drugs on the premises, and the brothel shouldn’t be shut down.
“We’re willing to make a deal here …. They are not trying to hide anything,” he said.
The general manager of Mona’s Ranch, Louis Goldberg, said “a bunch of things have been implemented already” to prevent drugs on site. “We run the tightest ship. We never had an incident, and Pete ruined everything.” He was referring to Peter Alberro, who was arrested on the drug charges.
Goldberg said all the workers have undergone drug testing, and there would be more stringent drug testing in the future, including with new hires. Mona’s Ranch also planned to do its own background checks on top of those done by the Elko Police Department, do bag checks, scan identifications, and would welcome a police drug dog’s visits.
Goldberg also said under new policies there will be no more locked rooms. The bartender and maintenance man, Alberro, had a locked room upstairs at the brothel, and that is where police found meth and drug paraphernalia.
Rice was critical of the bar owners, Soon Yee Scott and her daughter Lisa Watson of Las Vegas, after Watson admitted at the meeting she hadn’t been to Elko in roughly three years. The co-owners acquired the brothel license for Mona’s Ranch on Nov. 26, 2014.
“When we hired Louis, we knew he was doing a great job,” said Watson, who was at the meeting. Goldberg also manages Inez’s. “Louis had no idea there was a problem at Mona’s. He had no knowledge anything illegal was going on. I beg you to give him another chance.”
Rice told Watson it was her responsibility to communicate with Louis, and he chastised her for living in Las Vegas “and taking all the profits,” while not spending time in the community.
Much of the testimony from the brothel’s side was centered on showing that Alberro was not a manager, which might lessen the brothel’s liability.
Police Chief Ben Reed testified that under city code bartenders are also considered managers, and he said among the 278 text messages entered into evidence, many show Alberro and Goldberg discussed what might be considered management issues.
Alberro, who is out on bail following his arrest during a traffic stop, testified at the hearing he had been addicted to meth for three years, but he didn’t sell drugs at Mona’s Ranch. He also said he wasn’t a manager.
“I just did things that needed to be done,” he said.
Liker showed photos of the remodeling work Alberro had done at the brothel and told the council Alberro was a good worker who didn’t show the usual signs of a drug user.
The council met for more than seven and a half hours Tuesday, with most of that time spent on the public hearing on Mona’s Ranch. Sworn testimony came from Reed, police Capt. Ty Trouten. Mona’s Ranch’s manager Anna Brown, as well as Alberro. Brown played a recording of a conversation with Trouten to show she didn’t say Alberro was a manager but was referring to a manager at Inez’s.
Assistant City Attorney Tom Coyle and Liker did the questioning for the hearing.
Reed said that along with finding drugs in Alberro’s vehicle on Feb. 3, police searched Alberro’s house and his room at the brothel and found drugs at those locations, as well as scales and meth pipes. The amounts were high enough for possession with intent to sell, but he said he didn’t have hard evidence of sales at the brothel.
Trouten showed photographs of Alberro’s room at Mona’s Ranch, and he said he was “duly impressed with the surveillance there” at Mona’s and wondered why with so much oversight nobody knew what was going on there. No one had a key to Alberro’s room at the brothel, so police had to break the lock.
Rice said the lack of a key showed the “licensee and agents didn’t have control of the house.”
Simons said the locked room could have been a red flag.
Councilman Reece Keener said he thought “we’re delving into minutiae. We know drugs were found on the premises.”
The council tried to shorten the hearing then, but City Attorney David Stanton said that if the council is going to act or deal on the license, it needs to let the licensee put on a case.
“We have not had this situation before. We are treating you fairly,” Johnson said to Liker at one point in the hearing.
Rice stressed that a brothel license is a privilege and Elko is one of a limited number of communities where a brothel is legal.
“We all agree provisions of this privileged license were violated,” he said.
The council approved formal findings before suspending the brothel license, and Coyle said the action is for the brothel license, not Mona’s liquor license.
Assistant Elko City Manager Scott Wilkinson said Wednesday the city attorneys, police chief and city clerk, Shanell Owens, would have to work out the “dynamics of the existing business license. I’m not sure they can just have a bar and dancing.”