The Double Life of Nick the Cop

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In 1981, before his 30th birthday, Nicholas became an officer for the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Even then he didn't lose his Gypsy friends, not even those who were getting in serious trouble with the law, like John Uwanawich.

During the summer of 1983, according to PBSO reports, Uwanawich called a detective in Rockaway Borough, New Jersey. He asked the detective if he would file arrest warrants on some rival Gypsies who had moved into his territory, adding that there would be "something in it for him" if the officer filed the bogus warrants. The detective went to prosecutors, who gave him a wire to wear in the ensuing sting. The brazen Uwanawich paid the detective $300 for what he thought was going to be the detective's help on an upcoming insurance scam, and on August 2, 1983, Uwanawich offered $600 to arrest his Gypsy rivals on the phony warrants. He was arrested and sentenced to 100 days in jail, a fine of $10,000, and two years probation.

Nicholas, meanwhile, moved to Miami in 1986 to become a private investigator. In 1987 he applied to PBSO, writing in his application what would become his meal ticket: "I have information on gpysie [sic] con games, swindles, palm readers, etc.," he wrote. "I am a white collar crime expert -- on gypsies -- I speak and understand their Gypsie Romany Language."

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.

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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