by Virginia McCullough 1/10/10

Deputy Attorney General Michael T. Murphy on behalf of the people of the State of California filed an Amended Felony Complaint in Case No. INF066719 - The People v. Jimmy Hughes. The amended complaint was filed on December 18, 2009 and detailed charges naming James Hughes as the man who murdered Fred Alvarez, Patricia Castro and Ralph Boger on June 29, 1981 in the County of Riverside, State of California. The final page of the complaint cites the special allegation of multiple murders in violation of Pen. Code S 190.2(a)(3). Much has been written about the four people addressed in this portion of the complaint.

Page one of the complaint outlines the “Conspiracy to Commit a Crime”. The three people who are named here, John Philip Nichols, John Paul Nichols, and Glen Heggstad have been featured in the media to differing degrees. Now the state alleges that each and every one is central to the conspiracy that resulted two days later in the Alvarez executions. Deputy AG Murphy alleges the following:

That on or about June 27, 1981, in the County of Riverside, State of California, JAMES HUGHES did unlawfully conspire with John Nichols, John Paul Nichols, Glen Heggstad and other persons whose
        identities are unknown; to commit the crime of Murder, in violation of Penal Code section 187(s), a felony.

Who are these men and what are their backgrounds? This three part series will give a brief biography of each gentleman.


John Philip Nichols is a mystery man whose connections ranged from Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan to former South Dakota Senator James Aboureszk, to intelligence operative and informer Michael Riconosciuto and finally to alleged hit man Jimmy Hughes.

John Philip Nichols was all these things, but he described himself as a radical and the only child of parents he described as dedicated advocates of union movements across the United States. He claims to have met John L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers Union. Nichols said that Lewis taught him a great lesson “that he must be true to his family, the movement, the local union then God and maybe country….in that order”. In his early thirties Nichols became Secretary-Treasurer of the International Teamsters Union and got to know its President Jimmy Hoffa personally. The relationship was so close that when the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Racketeering was investigating Jimmy Hoffa, Nichols temporarily relocated to Washington D.C. to assist Hoffa's defense.

On Page 11 of John Philip Nichols resume (Read his resume) he describes his world wide travels while he was working as the Cabazon Manager. He claimed that while ” helping a small Native American tribe develop its own skills in breaking the poverty cycle” he traveled to Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Germany, England, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia in a three year period. Additionally, police reports show that John Philip Nichols also did business in South Africa, Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, the Netherlands, Canada and France.

While in Brazil Nichols was sales and advertising manager for Refrescos Do Brasil (Coca Cola) bottling and later he worked in marketing for the Anderson Clayton Corporation.

The time span between Brazil and the Nichols family arrival at the Cabazon Reservation have not been widely covered in the media but it is essential to an understanding of the man that brought the bright sun of gambling riches to a small desert tribe at the cost of some of the tribal members lives.

The best description of these years is contained on pages 27 and 28 of a book published in 1995, commissioned by the youngest son, Mark Nichols and paid for by the Cabazon tribe.

Return of the Buffalo by Ambrose L. Lane Sr. is clearly a biased book but one that is invaluable to understanding what happened in the 70s and 80s in Indio, California. Lane’s interview with Nichols Sr. recounted the Latin American years of Nichols’ career:

Nichols then returned to the United States for a short period. While waiting to return to Latin America, he took a temporary assignment as Executive Director of the Lower Eastside Neighborhood Association in New York City. Securing a position with Church World Service as staff representative, Nichols was assigned to Ayuda Christiana Evangelica (ACE) and the Concilio Evangelica de Chile. He would be based in Santiago and would be supervised by Obispo Enrique Chavez.

For more than four years, Nichols worked with health and social welfare treatment facilities and on economic-development projects of Chile's almost 900 local committees, covering a 2,300-mile area serving 2,000,000 Chilean Evangelicals. Among these projects were setting up and working small mines for precious stones such as lapis lazuli and various kinds of metals, deep-sea diving, the collection of abalone, the cultivation and gathering of seaweed for the Far East market, sawmills, millwork factories and native crafts work centers.

From that operations base, Nichols did consultation work for evangelical groups in Peru, Brazil, El Salvador, Bolivia and similar economic-development work with COMBASE, a group representing Protestant, Evangelical, Mennonite and Pentecostal churches in Bolivia.

In 1967, 10 years before contracting with the Cabazon's in California, Nichols was a consultant to the Chilean Council of Churches delegation to the World Congress of Pentecostalism in Rio de Janeiro. He was also a delegate from Chile to the World Congress of Evangelicals held in Berlin, West Germany, in 1966. Assisted by his wife, Joann, he was ACE’s official coordinator for disaster relief within Chile and throughout Latin America. While serving in that position in 1965, 80 percent of the country was declared a disaster because of the devastation from nationwide earthquakes and tidal waves produced by another mammoth earthquake. During this time, he and Joann coordinated the feeding of 3,000,000 people, the rebuilding of thousands of houses, the distribution of planeloads of clothing and blankets and the establishment of post-disaster cooperative economic-development enterprises.

Before returning to the United States, Nichols made several trips to countries in Africa as an economic-development consultant after the Declaration of Rancaqua was drafted. The Declaration was a faith statement for Evangelicals and Pentecostals. Nichols, Obispo Chavez Pentecostal Church of Chile, the Reverndo Coelho Ferraz Presbyterian Church of Brazil, and Reverndo Geraldo Valdevia were among the drafters of the Declaration. To raise money for Evangelical economic and social-health-development projects, Bishop Chavez, Nichols and other staff made multiple trips to the Orient and throughout Europe. In late 1967, Nichols sought and was granted a five-year leave of absence by the board of ACE so he could return to the United States for his children’s education. The leave was twice extended so that he could represent ACE with resource-development activities in the United States and Europe.

Upon his return to America, Nichols, Joann, and Dr. William Willner formed Pro Plan International Ltd. Inc. in Tallahassee, Florida. Willner was a lawyer, the retired Director of Grants and Contract Management of the National Aeronautical and Space Administration, and a professor of public administration. Together Nichols and Willner wrote and published two major training books: Revenue Sharing in 1973, and Handbook of Grants and Contracts for Nonprofit Organizations in 1976. Included in the latter book were the Federal Register regulations, published November 4, 1975, governing the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, Public Law 93-638. The year it was published, Joe Benitez and Nichols met for the first time, and one year later Benitez, Welmas, Nichols and the Cabazon Band’s Business Committee had reached a meeting of the minds. Given Nichol’s broad-reaching experience, all that needed to be done was to formalize an agreement on paper and secure the money to pay for his services [at the Cabazon reservation].

A Western Union Telegram dated July 3, 1979 addressed to Mr. David E. DeSerio of St. Petersburg, Florida and copied to John Philip Nichols on behalf of all parties discussed the transfer of over 57 tons of gold
Click to Gold Telex).  The hard copy of this telegram was recovered from the remaining possessions of Fred Alvarez by his parents following the assassination of their son and two of his friends in June of 1981. The telegram was given to this reporter by the Alvarez parents in October of 1991. The motive behind the gold transfer and the reason John Philip Nichols was handling the transaction remains unknown.

In 1978 John Philip Nichols and his family’s company Pro Plan International Ltd. took control of the Cabazon Indian Reservation in Indio, California. Assisted by his close friend, the former Senator from South Dakota James Aboureszk, Nichols exercised absolute control over the tribe’s powerful business committee. Working hand in iron glove with Aboureszk and using powerful political connections the two men pushed through the “Cabazon Decision” that made gaming on Indian Reservations legal.

That historic Supreme Court decision was handed down on February 25, 1987. Nichols second oldest son John Paul Nichols described the impact of this decision on the Cabazon tribe and the Nichols family:

When we won the Supreme Court decision, we all of a sudden were legitimatized.  We were legitimatized in the view of Indian tribes nationwide.  We, all of a sudden, became a political force in and of itself
        because the Cabazon Decision became the law of the land, if you will, and so, this small little tribe of 25 members, voting members, all of a sudden had the influence of 25,000 members.  We became, in fact,
        one of the most influential tribes in the nation.  It was an amazing turnaround from going to tribal meetings before that decision to going to tribal meetings after that decision.  It was almost like being ostracized
        and then treated overly with respec
t, if you will.

That landmark ruling eclipsed all of the failed business ventures and all of the negative publicity that Nichols Sr. had generated in the years between 1978 and 1987. That decision by the highest court in the land overshadowed and almost erased the memory of the triple executions that took place in June of 1981 when Cabazon Indian Fred Alvarez, and his friends Ralph Boger and Patricia Castro were brutally murdered in the backyard of Alvarez’ Rancho Mirage home. Alvarez’s words that he was a man marked for murder as he told reporters about the massive amounts of money being skimmed from the Cabazon Casino coffers disappeared in the hype generated by the tribe as it advertised for more gambling customers.

The rumors of organized crime running the new gaming were ignored by the courts, the Senate investigating committees and, of course, the media.

Decades long suspicions of political alliances between the Nichols patriarch and influential politicians, including those in the White House, were forgotten. So too, were the failed attempts by Nichols to use the Cabazon reservation and its sister tribes to manufacture and supply weapons to the Sandinistas. The September 10, 1981 night vision goggle demonstration that was allegedly attended by Eden Pastora was now a distant memory, disturbing but unimportant in light of the money now flowing across the gaming tables in Indio, California. After all, the Wackenhut/Cabazon Arms joint venture never bore fruit and the weapons were never created or delivered, according to official reports.

The 1984 attempt to dislodge the Patriarch and his family from power at the Cabazon Nation supposedly led by John Patrick McGuire, Jimmy Hughes, Peter Zokowsky, Gary Packham and backed by G. Wayne Reeder failed. By the third week of March 1984 the players had once again realigned with new compatriots and the Cabazon Head of Security Jimmy Hughes had been fired and banned from tribal land.

On September 13, 1984 Zokowsky, Reeder and Hughes had a meeting that resulted in a parting of the ways. But the drama was not over and in the last months of 1984 yet another conspiracy would take place. There would be a meeting of the minds that would be successful is setting up John Philip Nichols. Participating in this arrangement was yet another mysterious man named Michael James Riconosciuto who paperwork shows was a patient of John Philip Nichols. Caught in a trap, partially of his own making, the patriarch would go to prison and serve 24 months for solicitation to commit murder.

All of the trials, triumphs and tribulations would evaporate when the United States Supreme Court served up a victory that would lead to Indian gaming nationwide. No one could deny that behind the dawning of this new day was an elderly, portly man with white hair who was the engine that drove the train.

In 1991 the enigma named Riconosciuto would resurface and begin recounting his own version of what had transpired at the Cabazon under John Philip Nichols. The story would quickly become international news and introduced many new angles that had not been mentioned before.

In 1992 the father of Indian gaming lost his left leg below the knee from complication of diabetes and in 1993 he survived double bypass heart surgery.

The Nichols family reported that their father lived out the remainder of his life quietly in the desert existing on a minimum income. Sources within the Cabazon community said that this man remained a power in the tribe until his passing.

When the 76 year old Nichols died of a heart attack in March of 2001 many of exploits were recounted in the obituaries that appeared in the press (Read obituaries). Reporters Mark Henry and Mike Kataoka, writing for The Press-Enterprise of Indio, California said it best:

Mr. Nichols remained an enigmatic figure, his life scrutinized by law enforcement, writers and conspiracy theorists.

Nichols’ youngest son, Mark Nichols, then CEO of the Cabazon Tribe paid tribute to his father by honestly declaring, “He changed a lot of people’s lives and he lived a lot of people’s fantasies.”

Virginia McCullough © 1/10/10