The Double Life of Nick the Cop

Born into a Gypsy life of crime, he's now busting them for their cons. Or is he?

"You're telling me you didn't know John Uwanawich was a convicted felon?" Connor asked.

Nicholas said he didn't.
"Isn't that strange?" Connor asked later.
"No, it is not strange for me, because I have an understanding, as I told you. I know a lot of Gypsies. I know that sometimes through life, they may do something that is construed as illegal. It is my understanding, is, you stay on your side and I'll stay on my side, and we can have a friendly relationship. I don't want to know anything that you are doing because that way, I'm not involved.... I don't inquire, 'Have you committed a crime today? Have you committed a crime in the past? Are you planning a crime?'"

In short, he apparently hears no evil -- when it comes to his friends.
Connor also brought up suspicions that Nicholas was spreading the untruth that Gypsies, when caught in a swindle, are willing to give back to victims as restitution only half of what they stole.

"That's the way it operates, the traditional Gypsy way," Nicholas explained to Connor.

It was a strange statement, considering that in the John Cooke Insurance Fraud Report article, he wrote: "A Gypsy will do anything to avoid jail -- agree to a conviction, pay a fine, pay court costs and restitution (and will always pay in full) and will always repay the victim."

Instances like these have led investigators around the country to wonder about Nicholas.

"I know from dealing with these people that if you got them, they will pay you every dadgum dime you want just to get out of it," Lieutenant Walker said. "So, that's not right. Now, what his angle is, I don't know."

The suspicion, Connor said, is that Nicholas was a "fixer," or someone who travels the country to help Gypsies in their disputes with the law, rather than see to it they pay for their crimes to the fullest. That suspicion, however, has never been substantiated.

One of Connor's final questions seemed to come out of nowhere.
"You're not the Rom Baro of Palm Beach County are you?"
"No sir," Nicholas answered with a laugh.

"People have asked me that believe it or not," Connor said, "and they are all from up north."

After concluding his investigation, Connor bafflingly ruled on February 17 that the charge of associating with a criminal was unfounded.

"To prove this there needs to be evidence to show that the employee knew or should of [sic] known that person had a criminal reputation," Connor wrote in his explanation. "In this regard Deputy Sheriff John Nicholas stated he was unaware that Uwanawich was a felon, even after admitting they have known each other 'almost all their lives.' Therefore the allegation of association with a convicted felon cannot be sustained."

Virgadamo said he's not sure if he believes Nicholas or not -- it's just that they couldn't "prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that he did know of Uwanawich's past.

While Nicholas walked away from the investigation, John Uwanawich left town. According to law enforcement and Gypsy sources, he's now back in New Jersey or New York. A phone call to a fortunetelling shop in Dania where his sister-in-law lives was answered with a promise that Uwanawich would get a message to call New Times. He never called.

Before Nicholas himself went silent, he agreed to an interview in his modest one-story stucco home in a strictly middle-class part of Royal Palm Beach Village. He lives there with his non-Gypsy wife, who is a secretary at the sheriff's office, and her two children. He said his own son now works as a security guard and "knows of the Gypsy life, but he doesn't care for it." Nicholas is going on 46 years old and says he's been having heart problems. He seems tired, but he says he's still on his crusade against Gypsies, still calls himself the rat, the turncoat, the man who shamed his own father.

Only now, he's also viewed as a turncoat by many in his chosen career.
"If somebody wants his help, I'll preface it by saying, 'He's a Gypsy and he's a cop,'" says investigator Joe Livingston of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. "I tell them to be careful with the information you give him."

While many investigators view Nicholas with disdain, some remain in his corner, like Fort Lauderdale's Det. Mike Debilio and Broward County Deputy Bill Loos, who also specializes in Gypsy cases.

"The guy's got to put up with a lot of crap," Debilio said. "There's people who just don't trust him because he's a Gypsy. I would defend Nick. If I needed some help with a case, he'd be there in the drop of a hat."

Nicholas now gives seminars on Gypsy crime at a price, instead of as a direct representative of the PBSO. He still helps out other agencies when they ask for it, and when he has permission to do so. Most recently, in January, Sheriff Robert Neumann got a letter from the Coral Gables Police Department commending Nicholas, adding another letter to the stack in the personnel file. The police chief wrote to Neumann: "You are fortunate to have an individual such as John Nicholas, Jr. representing your agency and who is well respected among the law enforcement community."

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