FORT LAUDERDALE — A new book by a successful businessman and civic advocate is shocking friends and associates alike about his true identity.
The man known to many South Floridians as John Nevin, publisher of the monthly Vanguard Chronicle newspaper, is a soft-spoken individual who has rubbed elbows with heads of state, dined with top politicians, and negotiated deals with some of the nation’s most successful business people. He is also an accomplished chef.
And his real name is James Young, a convicted felon who served time in New York prisons.
After his release on parole, he moved to South Florida, concealed his true identity, and—while on the lam—transformed himself from gang member to community pillar.
Young served 10 years in prison after being twice convicted for crimes such as manslaughter, attempted murder and drug sales. He was on the lam from the law for nearly 25 years under his assumed name.
“I am shocked,” said Broward County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish, who appointed Young to an advisory board while she was a county commissioner.
Now Young, 60, of Fort Lauderdale, is coming clean, telling his story in the book, I Wanted To Be Bad.
In an exclusive interview with the South Florida Times during a phone call from Mississippi, where he is promoting his book, Young said, “The only thing I kept from people was my true identity. Everything I did related to my businesses and newspaper was totally legitimate and honest.’’
When he was 21, Young, at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, was known as The Goon in Rochester, New York, due to his muscular frame and penchant for pummeling foes.
In 1969, Young, along with seven fellow gang members, was involved in a battle with a rival gang that left two people shot dead and two others wounded by gunfire.
“I was there, but I thought we were going to fight them. I jumped out of the car, and heard gunshots, and almost got shot myself,” Young recalled. “I had no idea any of them had guns, and I never shot anyone.”
In the end, two gang members were acquitted. Four others reached plea agreements. They testified against Young and one other member.
Young was convicted of two counts of first-degree manslaughter and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
He was sent to the Attica Correctional Institution, where he survived the 1971 riots, and was paroled in 1975 after serving six years.
A few months later, he was convicted again, this time for selling drugs to undercover police officers, and was sentenced to three years to life in prison.
After serving four years, he was again released on parole in 1980. He said he began counterfeiting and cashing money orders, and skipped town under an assumed identity, eventually relocating to South Florida in 1982.
“I got the name John Nevin from a fake driver’s license a friend gave me in New York, which I thought was real at first, so I became that person,” Young said.
In South Florida, Young perfected the identity of Nevin, eventually obtaining a Florida driver’s license and voter registration card in that name.
“I was called to jury duty a number of times, but I always begged off, because that would not have been right,” he said.
As Nevin, he landed a job as a chef at the prestigious Bonaventure Intercontinental Hotel and Spa in Plantation. There, he gained notoriety, cooking for the likes of Brooke Shields, Susan Anton, Maureen Stapleton, Burt Reynolds, Richard Simmons and Jim Brown, and was on a first-name basis with some of them.
He later went to work as a cook at the Pier 66 Hotel & Spa in Fort Lauderdale.
There, he met a girlfriend, Angela Pope. With her, he would go on to father eight children, start a clothing manufacturing business, and later a medical transcription service that employed as many as 26 women – most of them former welfare recipients.
The couple developed relationships with a number of high-profile business and community leaders. In 1991, Young started the Vanguard Chronicle, a monthly business and networking journal.
He began studying the arts, read books on theater and business, and perfected his tennis game. He moved into a penthouse on the beach in
Fort Lauderdale, and later moved into a home in the upscale community along Bayview Drive.
As a newspaper publisher, Young saw his list of friends and community connections grow. He was appointed to numerous civic, community and advisory boards.
“I did appoint John to the county’s Small Business Advisory Board,’’ Parrish said. “He was always a gentleman and committed to making Broward a better place. I have never heard of his book.’’
Young was also on the coveted Broward Alliance, Broward County's public/private partnership that advocates for economic development and entrepreneurship.
While serving on the Broward Alliance, Young met Paul Anger, who was then the publisher of The Miami Herald’s Broward County edition.
“Paul and I became close friends. We played tennis together, and shared many meals at our homes,” Young recalled.
Anger, who left The Miami Herald in 2001, is now the editor and vice president of the Detroit Free Press.
“John and I did play tennis once and we had a cordial relationship – although we didn’t host each other for dinner,’’ Anger told the South Florida Times in an email. “We got to know each other through the Broward Alliance, and we discussed and then implemented a partnership between The Herald and the Vanguard Chronicle.’’
Young said he and Anger completed a deal in 2001 that led to his 25,000-circulation publication being inserted into, and distributed by, The Miami Herald.
Anger continued: “The business relationship was something we tried as a way to see if John could expand his newspaper and help us increase circulation as well – it didn’t last long and didn’t get many results, as I remember, but we gave it a shot. We at The Herald had no knowledge of John’s background other than he was active on the Broward Alliance and was energetic about trying to make his business successful.’’
At that time, Keith Clayborne was the owner and publisher of The Broward Times, the immediate predecessor of the South Florida Times. The weekly community newspaper that focused on the black community was sold in 2007 to its current publisher, Robert G. Beatty, Esq.
Over the years, Clayborne and the person he knew as John Nevin worked closely, advocating for minority inclusion and more opportunities for minorities in local, state and county governments.
“I first met John back in 1989 here in Fort Lauderdale. He was sharp, affable and outgoing. I had grown up around guys like John, so I immediately detected something edgy about him,” Clayborne said, expressing shock after being told about Young’s true identity.
“Ironically, upon coming to Fort Lauderdale, John transformed himself into one heck of a salesman,’’ Clayborne said. “He possessed style and class – became an avid tennis player and entrepreneur and developed a real knack for advocacy and writing – launching a business publication entitled the Vanguard Chronicle. John's story is one of triumph over great odds. Imagine a black man, any black man being able to start his life over and succeeding after having served time for manslaughter and selling drugs?”
Young said his Rolodex was full of the personal contact information for many of the most powerful people in the state, including then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Politicians and others regularly sought his counsel.
“There are sitting judges today who sought out John Nevin, and got him to write letters of recommendation to the governor for them to be appointed to the bench,” Young acknowledged.
He insists none of his efforts in South Florida were charades, because he worked for all he has attained.
In 2002, Young said he hired the late attorney Ellis Rubin to conduct a background check on him to see if any old warrants for his arrest were active. The search came back clean.
In 2003, he and his would-be wife, Anne Chuard, were in the process of opening the swanky Euro Bread & Café in downtown Fort Lauderdale, one block north of Las Olas Boulevard. He obtained a passport, and traveled to Switzerland to meet her family.
The couple, who divorced last year, later sold the restaurant, which continues to operate under the same name, at the same location, at 501 S.E. 2nd St., Fort Lauderdale.
Upon Young’s return to the states, U.S. Customs held him briefly after finding warrants for his arrest in New York from 1980. But those officers released him because the warrants were old and because he promised to resolve the matter.
He hired a lawyer to negotiate his surrender, and turned himself in to New York prison officials later that year. A parole board ordered him to remain in prison, but he appealed. After serving nine months, a New York Supreme Court justice ordered him released in 2005 on two years parole.
During his last prison stint, he continued to publish the Vanguard Chronicle from behind bars, where he would write articles on notebook paper and mail them to his wife, who laid them out for printing, and they never missed a publication deadline.
After being released, Young relinquished the driver’s license and voter registration card in the name of John Nevin, and assumed his true identity.
“It was like I was let out of the locked box all these years, and now I never plan to look back,” he said.
SHOCK AND SUPPORT
While his friends and business contacts are shocked about Young’s past, they remain supportive, even proud.
“He certainly is proof that everyone deserves a second chance. He did a great job of turning his life around. I wish him the best of luck,” Parrish said.
His book chronicles his life as a youth getting into trouble, and his redemption as a cultured chef, traveler, author and entrepreneur. Just this week, he reached an agreement with Jackson State University in Mississippi to incorporate the book into its Sociology and Criminal Justice studies.
“Somewhere along the line, John decided to shape his circumstances and not be shaped by them,’’ Clayborne said. “He got involved in local chambers and business groups, visited churches and other community organizations, and actively railed against (alongside me) some of the problems blacks were facing in Broward County.’’
Clayborne concluded: “How many guys with his baggage would be out there publicly fighting against the system, knowing that on any given day he could have been arrested and exposed?”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. James Young, aka John Nevin