RENO, NEV., SEPT. 19 -- Federal bankruptcy officials, concerned about turning away paying customers, convinced prostitutes today to return to work at the Mustang Ranch brothel as early as Thursday evening, a spokesman said.

Federal trustees met with Mustang Ranch employees, including the 40 to 60 prostitutes, to try to lure them back to work, said Bill Knudson of the U.S. Trustees Office.

The Mustang Ranch's federal bankruptcy trustee, Jeri Coppa, in a telephone interview from the brothel today, said she had a room full of willing prostitutes who want to go back to work as soon as state licensing requirements can be met.

Coppa said the brothel could reopen Thursday evening or Friday.

Federal officials hope to get the Mustang Ranch back in operation as soon as possible to begin whittling away at the owner's multimillion-dollar tax bill.

Joe Conforte shut down his famed bordello Tuesday because he missed a $75,000 monthly payment on his tax debt and he feared federal bankruptcy officials would liquidate his bawdy business.

Bankruptcy trustees moved in at 4 p.m., but by then all of the prostitutes and other employees had scattered, Knudson said.

The 105-room brothel is about 12 miles east of Reno in Storey County, where houses of prostitution are legal.

Knudson said federal bankruptcy management of "the oldest profession" was no different than any other business takeover. Coppa took charge of another financially troubled Storey County bordello in the community of Salt Wells in 1982.

"This is just another business in Nevada," he said, "just like a 7-11 store."

Knudson said he did not know how long the government would hold the reins at the ranch, but, he said, "We're going to be here a long time."

Conforte's much publicized attempts to sell the brothel through public stock offerings for about $23 million failed twice in recent years.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James Thompson converted the five-year-old Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding into Chapter 7 liquidation at the request of the Internal Revenue Service.

Coppa said Conforte failed to meet a $75,000 monthly payment schedule to satisfy a $12 million to $13 million tax debt.

But Peter Perry, Conforte's Reno lawyer, said the brothel owner owed the government about $5 million. He said the government was presented with an offer by a prospective buyer Tuesday, but the government turned it down. He did not identify the would-be buyer.