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
The problem was, Miller was obviously giving information on rivals there, and Skinner knew it. Then came the kicker: Nicholas told them that a Gypsy named John Uwanawich was investing $15,000 in a shop on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Uwanawich could help them, too, Detective Hundevadt remembers Nicholas telling them. Nicholas said John Uwanawich was a Gypsy who Miami Beach police could trust, Hundevadt says.
Skinner didn't know who John Uwanawich was, didn't know he was a briber of cops, but he did know the whole thing stank.
"I felt Nicholas and the other guy were trying to use us, and I didn't want anything to do with it," Skinner says. "I didn't want anybody to be able to say they had me in their pocket."
Skinner called PBSO to ask about Nicholas and told internal affairs investigator John Connor that he thought Nicholas was trying to help set Miller up in the fortunetelling business in Miami Beach. An investigation ensued.
On September 23, 1997, Connor asked Nicholas a crucial question for the first time. "Who is John Uwanawich?"
"Rumor has it," Nicholas responded, "that he's investing a lot of money to open a business in Miami Beach."
There was no mention of a lifelong friendship between the two and certainly no mention that Uwanawich was a convicted felon. Connor gathered more information about Nicholas' relationship with Uwanawich and went back to question him again on October 23, suspecting that Nicholas was being less than truthful with him.
"Do you know John Uwanawich, and did you leave the country with him?" Connor asked him.
Nicholas admitted that he not only knows Uwanawich but also considers both Uwanawich and his wife personal friends. And yes, Nicholas told Connor, he recently went to Costa Rica on vacation with Uwanawich. He said he paid his own way on that trip.
Connor would later ask Nicholas why he didn't offer that information the first time he asked him about Uwanawich.
"You weren't trying to be evasive? You didn't want to open a can of worms?" Connor asked him.
"I was not feeling well," Nicholas explained. "I wasn't understanding correctly at the time. I was very mixed up."
"Why were you mixed up?"
"I'm not feeling well, not feeling good, and I was nervous. I've been not feeling well for quite a while."
During the investigation Nicholas defended his taking Miller to Miami Beach, saying he was there to help nab Gypsy criminals.
"Nicholas told me that out of all this, he has learned a lesson," Connor wrote in his report. "The lesson is that whenever he learns of something within the Gypsy community he will keep it to himself. He believes it is not worth it, if [law enforcement officers] don't trust him."
On November 10, Connor handed down his assessment that the allegation of Nicholas using his power as a deputy to help his Gypsy friends gain sway with Miami Beach police was unfounded. "The allegations lack credible factual information," he wrote. "They are based on perception."
PBSO Assistant Director Richard Virgadamo wrote a memo back to Connor disagreeing with the finding. Connor reevaluated the case and on November 21 found Nicholas guilty of "Misdirected Action or Interfering With a Official Investigations," and gave him a two-day suspension, which Nicholas was allowed to substitute for two vacation days.
Skinner laughed out loud at the punishment.
"Unbelievable," he said. "It's serious what he did. Very serious."
Three days after Connor signed off on that decision, PBSO got a phone call from Lt. Wyatt Walker of the Lee County Sheriff's Office. Walker had some information on the relationship between John Nicholas and John Uwanawich -- and Walker knows a little something about relationships between Gypsies and cops.
The Lee County Sheriff's Office was embarrassed back in 1994 when it became known that undercover agents in Orange and Seminole counties had videotaped Sheriff John McDougall and some of his top officers paying their respects at the Orlando funeral of the Rom Baro of Lee County, one Jimmy Johnson. An ensuing investigation showed that Johnson had died at a party thrown by McDougall's highest-ranking deputy at the time and that the Johnson family had contributed hundreds of dollars to McDougall's campaigns. A state investigation led to the arrest of one of Johnson's sons on several counts of fraud.
Walker told Connor that he'd heard from his own Gypsy sources that Nicholas was associating with a Gypsy named John Uwanawich. Walker didn't add anything new, except one fact: Walker filled Connor in on Uwanawich's record as a convicted felon. Walker isn't shy about his contempt for Nicholas.
"He said he's left that lifestyle and became what they call an 'American,'" he says. "He said he has nothing to do with the Gypsies any longer except to solve Gypsy crimes. Well, I know that he and John Uwanawich are best buddies."
Connor opened another investigation, which he began by confirming Uwanawich's cop-bribing conviction.
On December 11, 1997 -- less than a month after the Dateline show aired -- Connor again questioned Nicholas about Uwawanich. Connor established that Uwanawich and Nicholas were practically lifelong friends. He also brought up the Costa Rica vacation and confirmed that Nicholas was going to Gypsy weddings and funerals, something self-respecting detectives just don't do.