Remembering Navarro: Nick and Buddy


Nick Navarro was uncharacteristically quiet in the courtroom in 1986, the first time I had seen him with little to say in the years I had covered him.

I was being held in contempt of court for refusing to testify about remarks Nick made to me concerning his reasons for firing a number of deputies when he took office.

During a break in the proceedings while the judge considered whether to send me to jail, Nick walked over to me, leaned over and whispered in his heavy Cuban accent: “Don’t worry, guy.  I put you in a private cell.”

The newspaper’s legal hit team which included Ray Ferrero, now chancellor of Nova Southeastern University, kept me out of jail.

And even though I was standing on journalistic principals and not any loyalty to Nick, he always appreciated that I was willing to be held in contempt rather than talk about his off-the-record remarks.

I had known Nick for years like any other local reporter

He was the ultimate showboat, the Muhammad Ali of law enforcement. A long-time undercover cop, he was the go-to expert on drug smuggling during the Miami Vice era. A headline grabber, he knew how to turn a drug bust of six kids with a pound of dope into a front-page story.

Nick once got in a highly publicized fight with the State Department for raiding some drug houses – in the Bahamas. He was an adviser for the movie “Scarface.”  He had helped bust the famed jewel thief and murderer Jack “Murph the Surf” Murphy and Mafia financier Meyer Lansky.  He knew his way around reporters, was solicitous of our needs, and respected our deadlines.

I covered him as a police reporter in the 1970s and early 1980s, even going on a raid with his undercover squad. But it was during his 1984 campaign for sheriff that I really got to know Nick.

How a Republican Became Sheriff

Broward in 1984 was, if anything, even more Democratic than today.  Condo power was at its height, as tens of thousands of FDR Democrats retired to places like Hawaiian Gardens, Century Village and Sunrise Lakes. Those D’s were highly-partisan and voted in huge numbers.

The sheriff was George Brescher, a soft-spoken lawyer and political novice appointed by Gov. Bob Graham to fill a vacancy.  About a year before the election, Brescher called his undercover boss Navarro into his office and fired him.

It was big news.   Everything Navarro — the most famous cop in South Florida– did was big news.  Brescher hinted darkly at corruption among Navarro’s undercover squad, but when challenged for evidence, publicly backed down.

Navarro quit rather than take a demotion.  Then he filed to run against Brescher, first as a Democrat and then switched to become a Republican.

Democratic big wigs like Broward Party Chair George Platt, now a lobbyist, started to worry.  The publicity shy Brescher was no match for media savvy Nick.

“I’m not comfortable sticking my nose in the cameras,” Brescher said at the time. Nick had no such qualms.

So Democrats cooked up the most ill-advised tactic I can remember in decades covering politics – the party sued Nick to kick him off the ballot.

The pivotal meeting took place in Platt’s office.  All the usual Democratic powerbrokers were there – County Commissioners Nicki Grossman and Marcia Beach, former U. S. Rep. Ed Stack, powerbroker and Graham patronage chief Steve Josias and former sheriff Bob Butterworth.

“They passed around copies of a proposed lawsuit against me and talked about Brescher’s sputtering campaign.  Getting me removed from the campaign seemed like the best strategy at that late date.  No one was concerned that it would leave the Republicans without a viable candidate,” Nick later wrote in his book “The Cuban Cop”.

Platt and company charged Nick had violated the state election law by changing parties too close to the election day.

The case stayed on the front page and evening news as it jumped quickly from the Circuit Court to the Fourth District Court of Appeals and federal courts in Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.

Through it all, Nick had one message for the cameras and microphones: “The Democrats are trying to deprive you, the voters, of your right to choose who should be sheriff.”

Sunrise Mayor John Lomelo was a Platt opponent.  Still, Lomelo said it best when he criticized “the stupidity of George Platt giving him ( Nick) all that free publicity.”

Nick won with 52 percent of the vote.  In a Democratic county.  He held office eight years.

Democratic Sour Grapes

The night of the election, reporters and Broward political world gathered in the Government Center to hear the results in this pre-Internet era.  Democratic Party insiders were angry and blamed the media for giving Nick so much ink during the month-long court fight.

As the reporter for Broward’s biggest newspaper, I was an obvious target.

As it became clear that Nick had won, the tipsy wife of a Democratic activist came up to me and yelled: “This is all your fault.”

Then she threw a glass of wine on me.  As least it was white wine.

The sour grapes displayed with that thrown wine continued.  The Democrats pushed on with their ill-advised law suit despite the election results. They finally dropped it after New Years.

Eighteen months later I was in front of a judge being held in contempt.

Nick had told me right after the election that he was going to cut out “the dead wood” in the sheriff’s department when he took office.  One of the deputies he fired was Sgt. Tim Campbell, whose brother was lawyer and later state Sen. Skip Campbell.

Campbell sued Nick. Skip Campbell wanted me to reveal what Nick had said about his brother when speaking off-the-record.

I wouldn’t talk because I felt it was wrong to reveal what sources say off-the-record.  I was held in contempt, but stayed out of jail.

I didn’t see much of Nick after that.  In Miami to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, I missed his spectacular campaign loss in 1992.

When I learned of his death this week, I couldn’t help but remember that Nick was responsible for two of the most memorable events in my career – being held in contempt and having wine thrown on me.

R.I.P., Nick.  Thanks for the memories.

That’s me with hair, 1985


18 Responses to “Remembering Navarro: Nick and Buddy”

  1. Hammerhead says:

    Buddy, you looked a little like Richard Dreyfuss in the first Jaws movie. Perhaps you could have been a member of “The Band.” You are a master of disguise. Your real name is Buddy Nevins – right? Just pokin’.

    Thanks for the photos and the stories.

  2. says:

    Let’s reminisce.

  3. Bob Rountree says:

    Nice piece, Buddy. Nick was a colorful guy who stirred public opinion and was not afraid to get in anybody’s face. A legend in his own time.

  4. ExCompassionate Conservative says:

    This is why I miss you from the Sun Sentinel Buddy. Your columns were the best reading and example of a 24/7 working journalist instead of the current Sun Sentinel press release rewriters.

    Many years ago I heard Luke Campbell of 2Live Crew do an interview where he said two things which split my sides with laughter.

    -“I want to thank Sheriff Nick for making me a millionaire”

    -“This is America Sheriff Nick, not Cuba.”

  5. SAM FIELDS says:

    I don’t think anyone enjoyed being Sheriff more than Nick. He would have done the job for nothing.

    Is the story true that a few years back he was part of group that won the Florida Lottery?


    I don’t know anything about winning the lottery, but Nick won a slot machine tournament in Las Vegas in 1999. The payoff was $1 million.

    Fifty gamblers paid up to $25,000 apiece for a chance at the big prize. Nick had to split the winnings with somebody who put up the entry fee — probably Preston Henn, a big slots player who owns of the Swap Shop and went to Vegas with Nick. Also accompanying Nick was Andy DiBattista, a well-known lobbyist and gaming enthusiast.

  6. Lynne Helm says:

    Enjoyed this trip down memory lane, Buddy.

  7. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:


    Nick Navarro was good friend — first because he was a family friend of my mother’s in Cuba, which I didn’t know until long after we met, and also because he helped by giving me lots of good advice everytime we spoke. He was a great guy and a historic figure in Broward County. I respected him very much and will miss our chats. I will be in NYC for the next few days and will be unable to attend his funeral. But I am making plans with others to ensure that our community never forgets him.


  8. Demo Gal says:

    Buddy, you were actually cute back then.

  9. Git R Done says:

    @ Demo Gal: You should have seen him in High School !!! He was awesome and very protective of a wheel chair classmate, that is something I will never forget. LOL…

  10. Jack Moss says:

    Great story about a man larger than life with a great smile and firm handshake.

  11. Wayne Arnold says:

    Buddy, thank you for remembering Sheriff Navarro. Loved reading the inside history about you and Nick. I believe it was last year that I last spoke with him when he was in attendance with Sheriff Al at the North Miami Chamber luncheon honoring local police. He was a great sheriff and very thoughtful to his friends and he showed respect even to his political enemies. The first campaign with Nick was great because I was still young enough to get out and put up signs and knock on doors with groups of people who really believed in all he stood for in good law enforcement. His lovely wife Sharron was his biggest supporter. She honored him with her love and devotion as a wife and partner in all that he did for our community. He will be missed.

  12. Ben Graber says:

    Sheriff Nick Navarro was a cop’s cop. He was tough, true to his word and would not back down to wrong.Can you ask more of a man in his profession?In my eperience he was a good man with a soft spot in his heart for the average citizens he helped protect. Thanks Nick for your service. G-d Bless his soul.

  13. S only says:

    great read Mr. Nevins…and, aside from the mustache, you weren’t too bad to look at back then.

  14. Brian Craig says:

    I agree with the first post, Buddy you do look like Richard Dreyfuss in “JAWS” in that mug shot.

    As for Sheriff Nick, I can’t think of a more iconic figure in Broward politics. with the controversy he brought as sheriff I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say a truly negative word about Sheriff Nick, since he left office

    I saw Sheriff Nick at 6am, the morning after he lost the Republican Primary when he was coming in to be on the radio with Steve Kane.

    That primary loss was a shock and I was even more shocked when he showed up on the radio the next morning with his top staff to process the loss.

    The BSO building on Broward Blvd or the jail downtown should be named after him.

  15. It Already Has A NAme says:

    Brian Craig:

    The Building on Broward blvd already has a name The Ron Cochran Public Safety building. Rightly named after a good man and Sheriff that died in office.

  16. Patti Lynn says:

    Sheriff Navarro was very proactive when it came to the Florida Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches. He honored those who contributed, encouraged his deputies to volunteer at summer camp, and, generally, went out of his way to help Broward County’s underprivileged kids. Cochrane continued that effort, Jenne ignored the Youth Ranches, but Lamberti has also done a good job of helping the kids of Broward. Sheriff Nick will be remembered for the good that he did, which far outweighed his moments of controversy.

  17. Brian Craig says:

    I know the building already has a name but I would say the Sheriff Nick Navarro is a more fitting name for a BSO building than Ron Cochran

  18. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Hi Buddy. I heard through the grapefine that Sheriff Lamberti tribute(pay for it yourself if Mr.Navarro was such a mentor to you)that former Sheriff Navarro funeral along w/ all th ebells and whistles is going to cost close to a million($$) dollars when all is said and done. this is the same Sheriff(lamberti)that stated to the County Comm. that he has no money to fund Ft.Lau. 911 dispatch. Yes his demand letter on last Wednesday to his retraction on Friday was just disgusting. Also Sheriff wheres all your money from your cable shows, from the canine dog show to your gal-pal deputy show. No money huh? Keep pushin the panic button Al thats all you got, just remember push the panic button on election day..Cause your done.