Gypsies, Cops, and Thieves

Jack Makler hadn't changed much. When he answered the door, his silver-streaked hair was still perfect. Even in his tube socks, he looked ready to roll in a jet-black shirt and dark blue jeans. No, it wasn't Makler who'd changed, just the circumstances. When I'd last met him about seven years ago in a trendy restaurant in Delray Beach, he was a police detective telling stories about how criminal Gypsies prey upon corrupt cops.

Today, the 64-year-old Makler is accused in federal court of corruptly using his official powers at the Delray Beach P.D. to protect a Gypsy con artist. Charged with mail fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy, the now-former detective could spend most of the rest of his life behind bars.

For the time being, he lives in his tidy suburban middle-class home in Boynton Beach, where I took a drive recently to see if he was still as loquacious as he used to be. When he saw me standing on his porch, he just looked at me quizzically.

"Hi, Jack," I began, "I'm Bob Norman with New Times. I talked to you a while back for an article I wrote about Nick the Cop."

His eyes showed he now remembered.

"I heard what happened and wanted to talk with you about it."

"I can't really do that," he said rather curtly before muttering something about his attorney. "All I can say is I'm innocent."

This didn't surprise me. Makler, who is out of jail after posting a quarter-million-dollar bond, stands accused of helping a Gypsy con artist called Linda Marks swindle millions of dollars from victims who believed her fortunetelling shtick and gave her their life savings in the hope that she could save them from disease and despair. Not something to get chatty about really.

After Makler closed his door, I stuck a business card by the knob. Later, when I checked my voice mail, the first one began, "This is Jack Makler..."

Maybe he was ready to talk. Again.

The last time he gave up information, it was on the aforementioned "Nick the Cop." That was the nickname for John Nicholas, who was a Palm Beach Sheriff's Office deputy when I first wrote about him back in 1998. Nicholas rather informally specialized in Gypsy crimes. Nicholas knew a lot about Gypsies, or, to use the proper moniker, the Rom. He was, after all, a Gypsy himself.

What makes somebody a Gypsy? Well, the Rom is a race of people, sanctioned as such by the United Nations. The band of vagabonds left India more than four centuries ago and has been pretty much on the move ever since. The culture is based on duping the hell out of gadjes, their name for non-Gypsies, with fortunetelling cons, roofing scams, automobile rip-offs, and other schemes perfected over the years. And any bunco cop in the country will tell you that Florida is their promised land. Most of those palm-reading shops along the roads of the Gold Coast — there are 29 such establishments licensed in Broward County alone — are filled with Rom dreaming up fiendish ways to get into your bank account.

Gypsies live in a rigid, ultrasecretive society complete with territories and arranged marriages. And they squabble. Oh, do they squabble. To settle their disputes, they have their own courts overseen by leaders called Rom Baros, or Big Men. Once born into this treasure- and trouble-strewn life, few leave it.

Nicholas, though, claimed that after a criminal childhood, he turned his back on the life and devoted himself to busting his own brethren. He became a national media expert on the subject of Gypsy crime, even landing starring roles on 48 Hours and Dateline shows.

It made for a good story. Good fiction, anyway.

A couple of law enforcement sources had told me that Nicholas was suspected of being a double agent, so I investigated him. It didn't take long to find a whole lot of evidence that Nick the Cop was still very much involved with a known Gypsy crime clan using the last name Uwanawich. (Get it? "You want a witch?").

With the power of PBSO, Nicholas propped up the Uwanawiches while at the same time helping to eliminate their rivals. The Sheriff's Office investigated and, rather than canning him, found Nick guilty of some minor rule infraction. He was suspended for two days.

As I was reporting the story, I came across a Delray Beach police detective named Jack Makler. He was adamant that Nicholas was a no-good cop playing both sides of the street. To prove it, he arranged an interview for me with a Gypsy couple that owned a fortunetelling shop in Delray. Their names: Jimmy and Linda Marks.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman