WELLS - Wells City Council is planning to reconvene a hearing next month on whether Bella's Hacienda should be penalized following a temporary closure over a health certification issue.
After a long hearing Tuesday afternoon, the council voted to postpone action until 4 p.m. Jan. 12.
The council called the hearing for Bella's Hacienda to show why its brothel license should not be "revoked, temporarily suspended, restricted or probationary conditions placed thereon."
City Attorney David Stanton took sworn testimony from Sgt. Dale Lotspeich of the Elko County Sheriff's Office. Lotspeich is in charge of Wells law enforcement and the deputy with primary responsibility for supervising the brothels and enforcing city brothel codes.
Lotspeich testified his office received information from two Hacienda managers regarding infractions of medical certifications at the brothel. The managers reported brothel owner Shauna Cummins personally ordered girls to go to work without proper medical certification.
The Elko County Sheriff's Department investigated, including sending an undercover officer into the brothel with a search warrant on Dec. 3.
Lotspeich said the officer set up a "date" with "Colleen," the prostitute whose medical certification was in question, and the woman admitted she was working without medical certification.
Lotspeich said she told the officer she had been working earlier in the evening and Cummins knew she wasn't clear but told her to go out on the floor.
Lotspeich said the undercover agent seized the black box holding brothel employee work cards and medical certificates.
At that point, the sheriff's office closed the brothel pending investigation and a hearing before city officials on Dec. 6.
Sheriff's detective Marvin Morton testified he interviewed many of the prostitutes and the bartenders who work at Bella's.
"Testimony from the girls said that managers have told the girls to take the floor prior to medical clearance. The managers say that owner Shauna Cummins directed them to put the girls on the floor," Morton said.
James Boles, a Reno attorney representing Bella's Hacienda, cross-examined Lotspeich and Morton.
"You took no administrative action, no criminal action against Shauna? You sent no letter to Shauna informing her that girls were working without medical clearance? Did you investigate a possible conspiracy involving the brothel managers?" Boles asked.
Morton testified that he had not.
Boles attempted to show brothel manager Carol Turner and bartender-manager Cindy Howe conspired to cause trouble for Cummins.
He produced brothel employees who testified Cummins had never asked them to work without proper certification. They also testified Cummins does not have a key to the black box holding the certification. They said only Turner and a sheriff's deputy have keys to the black box.
"Who hired 'Colleen'? Who is in charge of seeing to it that all the working girls have proper medical clearance?" Boles asked.
"Carol hires the girls. Carol is in charge of seeing that all procedures are followed," Boles said.
Cummins testified she was moving her residence from Carson City to Lamoille in early December, and wasn't at the brothel the night of Dec. 3.
She also said she has never told any of the girls to work without work cards and health clearance.
"I don't know who has proper certification. I don't have a key to the black box. That is my managers' responsibility. I have to trust them," Cummins said.
She also testified she didn't know Morton's witnesses.
"I don't recognize those names. They use other names when they are working. I've never met some of them. I've been moving. These girls come and go."
Boles told city officials that both Turner and Howe have been fired.
Stanton cross-examined Cummins, pointing out she is an absentee owner. "You say Carol Turner fell down on the job, but you are responsible. Right? How do you know your new manager will be responsible?
"How often are you going to check the cards? How are you going to make sure this doesn't happen again?" Stanton asked, reporting that a new policy puts a key in the office.
"You have to decide what to do about noncompliance of your brothel code. Mr. Boles didn't ask you to change the policy. But the council needs to have a mechanism in place to be sure that we don't have continuing problems with noncompliance," Stanton said.
The city's attorney said, however, he was not going to recommend suspending or revoking Bella's license.
"The owner says she intends to make some policy changes. She must develop a policy correction plan and present the corrective action plan to be approved by the city. I recommend the city follow up with another show cause hearing to see if she is complying," he said.
Stanton then produced a draft corrective action plan, and Mayor Rusty Tybo called a 15-minute recess to allow time for the council and Boles to read the draft.
Boles blasted the draft, saying, "Someone allowed this [noncompliance] to happen. Shauna fired the managers and the bartender. The policies have changed."
Tybo then opened the hearing to comments from the council. Councilmen Hank Chapman, Cal Stark, Vikki Dedman and Kenny Huff were in full agreement with one another.
Stark said, "The Wells Brothel Code was rewritten in 2002. The brothels were involved. Everyone involved agreed on the code. The brothel should understand what it says."
Chapman tossed the corrective action plan aside and said, "This plan is too lenient.
"I'm not buying into the Turner conspiracy," he added. "We have an absentee owner who put her faith in somebody and the whole thing goes down. She claims it someone else's fault. She understands the code. The community needs to have confidence in the business."
"Shauna is responsible. She is trying to blame the sheriff's department and others, but she doesn't stand up and say 'I'm the owner. I'm responsible,'" Dedman said.
Looking at Cummins, Dedman said, "You helped write the code. You know the rules. To say it is everybody else's fault is wrong. Suck it up. Take responsibility."
Tybo said, "I agree with the order portion of the attorney's document. If I were to change something I would change the penalty. I believe the sheriff's office did a thorough job. I don't believe the conspiracy theory. But there are some gray areas."
Not tough enough
Chapman responded by saying he didn't think the attorney's action plan went far enough.
"I think there should be a 30-day suspension plus costs. The word 'revoke' comes to my mind. At the end of a 30-day suspension let's see how things are going. Enough is enough," he said.
"I feel it is in the best interest of the city to keep people employed," City Manager Jolene Supp said. "Revoking the license does no one good. I'm concerned that we have already taken a financial hit with all the time involved with this issue. I'm not in favor of closing any business."
"How many employees are we talking? How many dollars stay in this community? The city has bent over backward several times for this business," he said. "We went through this is May, and here we are back again. We haven't made the point."
Stark said, "I agree with Hank. This has been a very expensive experience for the city. I think there should be a suspension plus the brothel should pick up all costs."
"I think we should allow legal counsel to come up with a stronger draft, taking into account what the council members have said. Then we'll have a later hearing without suspending brothel business operations in the interim," Tybo said.
During the 10-minute intermission between the hearing and the start of the regular council meeting, Stark said, "I've heard from at least 35 city residents. They expressed the opinion that the city should take strong action against the brothel."
Chapman said he also had received many phone calls and e-mails from citizens expressing a similar opinion.