Back at the Ranch

An infamous South African brothel is closed after a year of legal wrestling.

Published January 31, 2001 8:09PM (EST)

Wealthy celebrities and businessmen now have to look outside Johannesburg, South Africa, to buy their sexual pleasures, after police finally closed an upscale brothel called the Ranch in the exclusive suburb of Sandton. It wasn't your average whorehouse bust. The process of shutting down the Ranch took nearly a year of legal wrestling, followed by a bizarre period during which the government actually took over its day-to-day operations.

This strange hooker story began in February 2000 when police conducted a raid on the Ranch, arresting a bouncer, 44 prostitutes and owner Andrew Phillips, whose 15-year-old business boasted the slogan "90 of SA's hottest showgirl babes giving bust and behind as they bounce their boobs and grind their groins."

Women and girls from Bulgaria, Romania, Russia, Thailand, Malawi and Zambia were charged with violating the Aliens Control Act because they had no work permits. Some of them were later released because they were actually South Africans. Phillips complained to authorities that the raid had adversely affected his business -- married businessmen were avoiding the place like the plague. He denied all charges, insisting that he was singled out because he had once testified against the government's aliens investigation unit in a corruption scandal.

Police again applied pressure on Phillips in December, seizing his bank accounts and staging surprise raids on his 19 properties, carting off millions of dollars' worth of paintings, Persian carpets, big-screen televisions and luxury automobiles. Forensic auditors estimated that Phillips had stockpiled up to $128,000 worth of booty-financed booty, despite a stated annual income of $15,000. Phillips was slapped with several charges, including keeping a brothel, living on the earnings of prostitution, procuring females to have unlawful carnal intercourse and employing illegal aliens as prostitutes and dancers.

The firm Deloitte and Touche was appointed curator of his assets and Phillips was issued an allowance until the matter lands in the courtroom.

The raid hit employees of the Ranch hard because it was only three days before Christmas. Angry staff protested outside the gates, pointing out that far more heinous activities continued in the center of the city without hassle.

"Why this place every time?" said Annie Mahlangu, who worked as chef at the Ranch.

The assets forfeiture unit appointed Deloitte and Touche partner Philip Reynolds as curator of the Ranch and its adjoining strip club, the Titty Twister Go-Go Bar. At the time of the action, Reynolds was supposed to run only the strip club, but business quickly resumed on the prostitution side. Newspapers reported that rows of hookers were back on the clock, sitting at the bar waiting for customers. Phillips proudly confirmed that the Ranch was very, very much open.

Irritated authorities restated their position: They were concerned about the possibility of child prostitution and international trafficking of women. Investigations continued into possible money laundering and Phillips' alleged involvement in the kidnapping of foreign women.

The government-run whorehouse lasted only a few weeks. In early January police pounced on the Ranch again, kicking out approximately 300 employees and posting cops outside the gates. No stranger to the art of legal maneuvering, Phillips has promised to meet with attorneys and reopen the Ranch yet again.

By Jack Boulware

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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