Longform

The Double Life of Nick the Cop

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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.

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.

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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