A Shuttered Brothel Divides Residents
As New Generation Moves In, Vote on a Ban Ignites Furor; Salt Wells' Sad History
By GEORGE ANDERS
Staff Reporter of THE
"We were a wild place back then," the 67-year-old resident said. Town archives hold accounts of lusty fellows, mixed up about the address, who dashed into the hospital. One, it is said, even insisted on being admitted as a patient, thinking that naughty pleasures with "nurses" awaited him.
Now, Fallon has grown up. Sallie's is gone, having given way
to a giant Wal-Mart and a community college. Retirees and young families keep
streaming into town, drawn by affordable housing and a reasonable commute to
A few miles east of town, though, a vestige of old
Many Churchill County residents think Salt Wells was a blight
on their community and want to be sure that no brothel ever opens again in
their roughly 5,000 square miles. On the county ballot Nov. 2 is a proposal to
ban houses of prostitution, something no
"It's been 35 years since I've been in a brothel, so I
don't have a personal stake in this," says Montie
Pierce, a retired construction manager in Fallon. "But this is part of
Even more vociferous is Fredda
Stevenson, owner of Old Middlegate Station, a desert
bar and grill about 100 miles east of
Such arguments carry no weight with Baptist minister Daniel
Fitch, an erstwhile carpenter who moved to Fallon seven years ago. He and his
wife, Mary, say they have seen how prostitution degrades women. Mr. Fitch in
his sermons has been urging parishioners to vote for a prostitution ban and to
help him mail fliers to voters. "It's time for a new generation of
Fallon dairy farmer Alan Perazzo complains that Salt Wells' property taxes haven't nearly covered its burden on county police services. "We're subsidizing prostitution, and I don't like that," he says. Over a steak-and-potatoes dinner, his wife, Carey, added in a whisper: "It's an eyesore. It's an embarrassment to our community. We have friends from out of state who didn't want to move here when they discovered prostitution was legal."
Usually, Mr. Flint says, he can stymie church-led campaigns against prostitution by presenting brothels as good public citizens. He talks proudly about how the Sheri's Ranch brothel, in Pahrump, raised $7,000 for a senior center this past spring, ensuring that the elderly would keep getting Meals on Wheels. Over the years, he says, other brothels have bought firetrucks and rebuilt baseball diamonds for their tiny hometowns.
Nearly two years later, Salt Wells was firebombed one morning at , causing $1,200 in damage. Law-enforcement officials found traces of Molotov cocktails made of gasoline and Folger's coffee jars. Later in the day, they arrested the sheriff's wife, Mildred Banovich, who was charged with arson. Mrs. Banovich has since died; her son, Dave Banovich Jr., says she pleaded guilty and served a brief jail sentence.
In the 1980s, Salt Wells' longtime owner, Reina
Fuchigami, also known as Gina Wilson, gave up control
of the facility after being accused of hiring underage girls to work at the
brothel. Ms. Fuchigami is now dead. The current
minimum age is 21. Several subsequent owners couldn't make a financial success
of the place. In 1996, the brothel was bought for $450,000 by James Kopulos, an
Some of Mr. Kopulos's best customers were Navy personnel at nearby Fallon Naval Air Station. He made it easy for them to pay with personal or military credit cards. Charges running to $150 or more were posted to "James Fine Dining." That fooled government auditors for a while, but then the General Accounting Office caught on.
In a lengthy report two years ago, the GAO blasted the Navy
for travel-card abuses that included 50 cardholders who spent more than $13,000
for "prostitution services" at Salt Wells and other
Last year, Salt Wells prostitute Maggie Holmes complained publicly that the brothel wasn't properly withholding taxes or paying for her medical exams. Mr. Kopulos says he didn't realize the intricacies of local laws, adding that the ensuing publicity hurt his image.
"Townspeople got angry at us," Mr. Kopulos says. "People started thinking we had a nonstop sex machine out there. The fact is, in the slow months we were lucky if we got 10 customers a week."
More problems followed. In September 2003, health inspectors
ordered the brothel closed after finding a rodent infestation and a lack of
acceptable drinking water. When Mr. Kopulos hired a
repairman, county officials cited the owner for not getting necessary work
clearances. Mr. Kopulos got the brothel briefly
reopened earlier this year, but eventually he surrendered his license and
turned over ownership to his main creditor,
Salt Wells now is bolted shut. Its trailers sit idle behind
barbed wire. Mr. Rottman didn't return calls seeking
comment on his plans. He could apply for an operating license and try to reopen
the bordello, but Mr. Flint, the brothel lobbyist, says that after talking with
the new owner, he believes that's unlikely. "The state's character is
changing with all these new people coming into