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Venerable ranch hand Dennis Hof now in Las Vegas’ neighborhood

Dennis Hof

John Katsilometes

Dennis Hof, amid a flurry of activity at the 2011 Adult Entertainment Expo.

It had been a long spell between conversations with Dennis Hof, the state’s pre-eminent entrepreneur in the sexual gratification industry. Nearly a dozen years had passed since our most recent chat when I spied Hof entertaining fans over the weekend at the Adult Entertainment Expo at Sands Convention Center.

AVN Adult Entertainment Expo 2011

Adult film star Caudia Marie talks with fans at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas Friday, January 7, 2011. Launch slideshow »

AVN Adult Entertainment Expo 2010

The 2010 AVN Adult Entertainment Expo at the Sands Expo Center. Launch slideshow »

2011 AEE: Opening Day

Opening day of the 2011 Adult Entertainment Expo at Sands Convention Center on Jan. 6, 2011. Launch slideshow »

When last we spoke, Hof was filling in the details of then-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura’s old yarn about Ventura’s visit to two of Hof’s brothels in 1969, when Ventura was a Navy SEAL. As Ventura recounted in his 1999 autobiography, “I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic From the Bottom Up,” he and a few of his Navy buddies wound up at Moonlight Bunny Ranch. The woman Ventura selected from that night’s hooker lineup liked his belt, which was adorned with about 20 shell casings, and made an offer.

“How about a trick and $10?” is how Ventura remembers it. Deal!

Hof was thus thrust into the national spotlight, enjoying even more publicity than when he hired famed assault victim John Wayne Bobbitt as a bartender a couple years earlier.

“I don’t think Jesse realized the amount of publicity he’d get for talking about that,” Hof says today. “But it did happen, oh yeah. Hell of a story.”

As an epilogue, in 2005, Hof bumped into Ventura in New York during a taping of Tucker Carlson’s show on MSNBC. The two were to appear on separate segments that were being recorded back-to-back.

“We shook hands and laughed about it,” Hof recalls. “He said he was still getting asked about it, years later.”

Hof has for decades conducted business in the Carson City/Reno area, but he’s now cavorting in our backyard in Crystal, just off Highway 160 northwest of Pahrump. In the fall, Hof took over two latent brothels that were once operated by embattled businessman Joe Richards: Cherry Patch and Mabel’s.

A good measure of luck (his own) and misfortune (Richards’, by his own making) allowed Hof to enter into Nye County. To use a football term, Hof was there to scoop up Richards’ own fumbled pigskin.

In the spring of 2009, Richards pleaded guilty to bribing former Nye County Commissioner Candice Trummell. The 75-year-old brothel steward admitted paying Trummel, who was chairwoman of the Nye County Commission at the time, a total of $5,000 in two installments in an effort to persuade her to rewrite an ordinance that had prevented him from starting construction on a new brothel on the south side of Pahrump.

However, according to a report, Trummell had been retained by the FBI to “sting” Richards and turned the money over to federal authorities.

In July 2009, Richards was sentenced to five years’ probation, a year in a halfway house and a $250,000 fine. He’s no longer permitted to do brothel business in Nye County, either.

With Hof helming Richards’ former operation, the Cherry Patch has since been renamed the Love Ranch and is now open for business, giving Hof his first presence near Las Vegas. Crystal is only about an 80-mile drive from Vegas in Nye County.

Which makes Hof happy.

“I couldn’t be happier to be in the Las Vegas market,” he elaborates. Prostitution remains illegal in Clark County, but Hof is now abutting the largest population center in the state and is likely to be a more public figure than ever in Vegas.

“I love it here,” he says, stopping as AEE attendees request photos and autographs. “There’s nowhere else like it -- and a perfect place for us to do business.”

As for Hof’s second business, Mabel’s (which sits less than a half-mile from the Love Ranch) is to be the site of a new $3 million brothel that has yet to be named. It will likely be something with “Ranch” in the title, given Hof’s success with the Bunny Ranch brand in Carson City. The show is the centerpiece of the HBO series “Cathouse,” which has featured Sunset Thomas, who is one of the sex-for-sale industry's leading spokeswomen and foremost literary figures who has written online for Esquire and L.A. Weekly.

“You just have to make sure the (new) business lives up to that title,” he says. “The Bunny Ranch is a high-standard brand.”

The new brothel should be open by the spring. Hof also is involved in an upcoming reality TV show that would feature himself and his girlfriend, fellow brothel-industry figure Heidi Fleiss (whose brother, Jason, was killed Dec. 28 in a drowning accident while on vacation in Hawaii). The show has not been formally titled, and Hof says it’s “premature” to note the TV outlet, though he has done business with an aforementioned cable channel.

Hof says the show’s pilot would show him bulldozing property to make way for his new businesses, a sort of new-sheriff’s-in-town kind of approach.

“It should be fun,” he says. “If you can’t have fun, what’s the point?”

AEE’s next home

Show spokesman Sean Devlin could not have been more empathic: “We will have a show in Las Vegas in January of 2012,” he said during Friday’s session. But the question is not exactly if, but where? Devlin said the site of next year’s AEE would be announced sometime between now and, well, January of 2012. When I asked if he could confirm the show would be at Sands, he said only that an announcement would be forthcoming.

Where will the show be held? Some people with an eye on the event speculate Palms or Mandalay Bay might be the site. A more informed source indicates it will actually be moved to the Palazzo, allowing the Consumer Electronics Show to spill into the old AEE space at Sands Convention Center and move out of The Venetian. Both conventions would benefit from the reduced walking it requires to attend either (or, both) in the current layout.

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