By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Jimmy Marks is thin and dapper in a black golf shirt and spotless white pants. He wears a gold bracelet and a gold-faced watch. Over his bulging overbite is a pencil-thin mustache. His face is narrow, his nose and his ears pointy. His eyebrows are darker than his silver-and-black hair, which is neatly trained straight back over his head. If he were an animal, he'd be a fox.
He was one of the first Gypsies to openly question the power of old Bob Johnson, a Gypsy who was the Rom Baro of Palm Beach County for decades. Marks boldly refused to pay Johnson a tribute. Bob Johnson recently died, setting up Marks as a possible heir, an ambition many Gypsies say he has, but one he denies. "It's been said, but it's not so," he claims. "I just run my own thing."
Another Gypsy who has opened up shop in Palm Beach County is John Uwanawich's brother, Miller Uwanawich, a 66-year-old Gypsy who drives a shiny Mercedes and whose wife tells fortunes. Miller Uwanawich and Jimmy Marks are, because of the proximity of their businesses, bitter rivals, who, as Delray Beach police detective Jack Makler puts it, "feud like the Hatfields and McCoys." When asked about his relationship with Marks, Miller Uwanawich's remarks were first evasive, then crystal clear.
"I know of Jimmy Marks, but I don't know him."
He was then told of Marks' allegation that Deputy Nicholas plays favorites.
"Listen," Miller Uwanawich said loudly. "Jimmy Marks is a motherfucker! You got that? He's a son of a bitch! And you can quote me on that." Click.
A battle between these enemies broke out at a Gypsy council meeting held in a Denny's restaurant, or so goes the story in Gypsy circles. The Gypsy council meets in parks and in restaurants, usually in Hollywood, a middle ground. The council has been described as something of a Democratic affair, where Gypsies gather and hash out problems and hopefully come to a solution.
At the Denny's meeting, John Uwanawich had a problem to settle: He wanted to get his money back for the daughter-in-law he'd bought. She apparently wasn't working out.
Also at the meeting, according to Marks, was Vine Uwanawich (no relation to Vine Miller), John Uwanawich's nephew, who's first name is pronounced three different ways, depending on who's doing the talking: the Italian "Vinnie," the Russian-sounding "Vanya," and just like the climbing plant.
Marks says the council voted against John Uwanawich's attempt to get his money back. Uwanawich blamed Marks, and a fight broke out during which Vine Uwanawich put Marks in a headlock, Marks claims. Just another Gypsy night at Denny's.
Soon after, Marks says, a cameraman with WPTV-TV (Channel 5) knocked on the door of his house and fortunetelling shop. Standing back by the driveway was John Nicholas, PBSO deputy. Nicholas, apparently off-duty, was just taking some of his media friends on a tour of criminal Gypsy places. Marks went haywire and called Detective Makler, who didn't like the visit either: He didn't mind that Nicholas was there, but he felt he should have been notified before Nicholas came into his juridisdiction.
"What are you doing here?" Makler said he asked Nicholas after driving to Marks' fortunetelling shop.
"I'm here with the task force," Nicholas responded, referring to an informal group of detectives who used to meet and share information on Gypsies in South Florida. Because they weren't sanctioned by the state or bestowed with statewide jurisdiction, the task force had no power -- officially, it didn't exist.
"There is no task force," Makler fired back.
Nicholas and the cameraman left and apparently nothing ever aired on TV.
Marks claims Nicholas was flexing his muscles for Uwanawich. Nicholas' explanation for the trip to Marks' door isn't known, but he roamed South Florida with the media quite a bit, surprising some Gypsies in their shops.
Marks' admitted goal in granting an interview with New Times was to get revenge: "I want to see John Nicholas out of the sheriff's office." He says Nicholas is abusing the badge by playing power games in the Gypsy world, by helping certain Gypsy factions while trying to destroy others. He believes that Nicholas is conflicted in his job, that "He no longer knows whether he's coming or going."
But what Marks, a Gypsy with an ax to grind, claims against Nicholas doesn't hold much weight. He might want Nicholas out of the picture simply so he can go about his business unimpeded by a man with a badge who knows him too well.
His allegations gain a little more credibility, however, in light of the trip Nicholas took to Miami Beach.
The trip, on August 28, 1997, was supposed to be about sharing information on Gypsy criminals, but Miami Beach's Lt. Tom Skinner believes it was a ploy by Nicholas to give his Gypsy friends the power of the badge in an area much coveted by Gypsies, who have squabbled over it for years.
With Vine Miller in tow, Nicholas met at the police department with Skinner, Sgt. James Hyde, and Det. Robert Hundevadt. Nicholas told the trio of lawmen that Miller knew about criminal Gypsy activity in their jurisdiction and could help them make some arrests.