By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
While Nicholas began his career as a deputy, another Gypsy was also building ties in South Florida: John Uwanawich, who also goes by the name Johnny Gee and, according to PBSO investigators, has two social security numbers.
While calling himself a Gypsy turncoat, Nicholas called Uwanawich and other Gypsies still in the "life" his friends.
At PBSO, Nicholas immediately set out to use his knowledge of Gypsies as a way to get into the detective division. Soon he was in the papers and on TV and popping up in police departments around the country to help solve Gypsy crimes, generating headlines like "Be wary of scheming Gypsies," and "Deputy warns of scheming thieves."
At the same time, he would complain about the "stigma" of being a Gypsy, about persecution of Gypsies, about how Gypsies had gotten a bad name they couldn't shake. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he'd become a leading voice in stigmatizing Gypsies across the country. Take this line from an article Nicholas wrote for a national law enforcement publication called the John Cooke Insurance Fraud Report: "Little is known about the American Gypsy culture -- and that is because the less that is known about them, the more freedom they have to operate their cons and scams."
If that sounds conflicted, it's because it is. He admits that the reason he told secrets to law enforcement about Gypsy life is that it was the best way to make a name for himself.
"To be honest with you, detectives are a dime a dozen unless you have a specialty," he explains.
At least one time, though, he helped a Gypsy suspect instead of bringing him to justice. It was in 1991 and it was the first known conflict between John Nicholas and his two worlds.
His nephew, Stephen Nicholas, was wanted for questioning by police in Portland, Maine, for allegedly kidnapping his own son during a dispute with the boy's mother. He left Portland with his son and hid out in John Nicholas' home. While harboring his nephew, John Nicholas, identifying himself as a deputy, called Portland police and talked to Officer Bruce Chase. He told Chase that nobody would find his nephew. Chase asked Nicholas if he would arrange for Stephen Nicholas to return to Maine for questioning. Nicholas wouldn't agree to this, saying, "You do what you need to do, and I'll do what I need to do," Chase wrote in a report. "John Nicholas was attempting to gain whatever information I would provide to him so he could pass the information to Stephen Nicholas. John Nicholas' call was not in the interest of law enforcement or to assist this agency in any way."
Nicholas wasn't breaking any law -- a warrant hadn't been issued to arrest Stephen Nicholas. In the end the Portland police department contacted PBSO about it's deputy's questionable activities, and Nicholas was reminded by internal affairs investigators of the sheriff's rules and regulations, namely that deputies were forbidden to involve themselves in family disputes or interfere with investigations of other departments. PBSO files show Nicholas was also given a copy of the "accessory after the fact" state statute.
The media didn't pick up on that story. In fact, not long after the incident, a Sun-Sentinel article under the headline, "Sheriff's deputy rejects lure of Gypsy lifestyle," stated instead that he'd been "disowned" by his family.
His enduring friendship with Uwanawich, who supposedly had fortunetelling shops in Dade and Broward counties at various times, was also free from public scrutiny. But there were more Gypsy connections. Nicholas also calls Uwanawich's older brother, who has a fortunetelling shop in Palm Beach County, a friend. Throw in Uwanawich's nephew, who operates a fortunetelling shop in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Then there's Uwanawich's niece, who runs an ofisa in Fort Lauderdale. And his sister-in-law, who operates in Dania. And, of course, Vine Miller, his "confidential informant," who also runs a fortunetelling shop in Broward County.
All of these Gypsies count John Nicholas as a friend, and all of them are active in what Nicholas terms the "life," the one he supposedly left, the one he calls organized crime, the one he's supposed to be fighting against.
But one Delray Beach Gypsy calls John Nicholas his enemy and says Nicholas has been using his position as a deputy to help those friends for years. His name is Jimmy Marks, the rival who lost out in the battle for a bride many years ago.
It's a small room, like a renovated walk-in closet, where fortunes are told by Linda Marks, a sturdy Gypsy woman who is a convicted fraud artist, according to police. The room is painted brownish gold and adorned with drawn angels, moons, and suns. It looks more like it was decorated by a kindergarten teacher than by a medium to the world of spirits. Outside that room is a tidy, glass-tiled waiting room for customers, where Linda's husband, Jimmy, sits on a brown leather sofa. He explains a few things about John Nicholas, who is known as "Nick the Cop" in Gypsy circles. Behind him and to his right is a strange-looking man with a goatee, squinty eyes, and a scrunched-up face. Never introduced, he occasionally breaks into the conversation in Rom.