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120416-nws-marsy'slawside

Broadcom co-founder Henry T. Nicholas III leaves the Ronald Reagan Federal Building after a hearing June 16, 2008, in Santa Ana, Calif. Nicholas pleaded not guilty to federal drug and securities fraud charges in a bizarre case alleging wrongdoing inside and outside the corporate offices of the giant chipmaker. The charges were later dropped.

In 2008, an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times cited information gleaned from federal indictments to describe Henry T. Nicholas III as “a drug-fueled, power-crazed rock star of the tech world who stocked a secret cavern under one of his homes with prostitutes and spiked the drinks of clients and employees with ecstasy.”

The charges were later dropped, but there are numerous other reports of unusual behavior intertwined with vast financial success and significant philanthropy in the colorful life story of Nicholas, the 57-year-old California tech billionaire who is the man and money behind Marsy’s Law.

The law, a crime-victim bill of rights, was approved by voters Nov. 8 in South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana after similar versions were adopted in prior years in California and Illinois. Efforts are underway to push the law in several more states.

Inspiration for the law arose from tragedy when Nicholas’ sister, Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, was fatally shot in 1983. One week afterward, the suspect was free on bail and crossed paths with Nicholas’ mother in a grocery store.

His mother’s emotional pain from that encounter led Nicholas to seek expanded rights for crime victims and their families, including the right to have their safety and welfare considered in bail decisions and the right to be notified when a suspect is released.

This past election cycle, Nicholas personally contributed a total of $7.6 million toward the pro-Marsy’s Law campaigns in the three states where it was on the ballot. His contributions were virtually the only money contributed to the campaigns, and less than $20,000 was raised in opposition in the three states combined.

The Journal sought an interview this week with Nicholas through Jason Glodt, the longtime South Dakota Republican political operative who was hired to direct the Marsy’s Law for South Dakota campaign, but Glodt said he has never met nor spoken with Nicholas. An inquiry to the press office requesting comment from the national Marsy’s Law for All organization was not answered by news deadline.

The political contributions from Nicholas flow from a net worth estimated by Forbes magazine to be $2.4 billion. He co-founded Broadcom Corp. in 1991 to make components for the tech industry, and he helped build it into a behemoth. The company went public in 1998 and he stepped down as chief executive in 2003, but when the company was sold for $37 billion in May 2015, he still owned a significant amount of its stock.

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The sale of the company came just two months after the death of Nicholas’ mother, Marcella Leach. In the months following Leach’s death, petition drives funded by her son led to Marsy’s Law making the ballot in the Dakotas and Montana.

The passage of the ballot measures was one of many high points in Nicholas' life. Besides his business success, he’s been a philanthropist since forming the Henry T. Nicholas III Foundation in 2006. His charitable work has included the founding of the Nicholas Academic Centers to provide after-school tutoring and mentoring for high school students in Santa Ana, Calif. Nicholas and his charitable associate, retired Judge Jack Mandel, were given ceremonial keys to the city of Santa Ana in 2012 to honor their work.

But, as many writers have noted over the years, there is an apparent dichotomy in the person of Henry Nicholas. The headline on a 2008 L.A. Times piece by editorial writer Robert Greene called that dichotomy “The two Henry T. Nicholases," and Vanity Fair called it “Dr. Nicholas and Mr. Hyde” in the headline above a lengthy 2008 profile.

Nicholas' alleged darker side includes the 2008 federal indictments for stock fraud, options backdating and distributing illegal drugs, plus a 2007 lawsuit by a former employee that included revelations of a secret lair Nicholas allegedly built so he could have sex with prostitutes and use illegal drugs. Nicholas denied the criminal allegations, which were dropped, and also the accusations in the lawsuit, which was settled out of court.

More recently, a woman identifying herself as Nicholas’ former girlfriend filed a lawsuit in January seeking $70 million from Nicholas for his alleged abuse and failure to honor financial promises. That lawsuit is pending in Orange County Superior Court in California.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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