Orange County’s greatest example of why Congress should tax billionaires out of existence recently took a plea deal to avoid prison due to completely unsurprising drug charges stemming from one hell of a party in Las Vegas in August 2018.
“Henry T. Nicholas III and co-defendant Ashley Christine Fargo will enter an ‘Alford plea’ to two felony drug possession charges, and will make a $1 million donation to an unspecified Las Vegas-area drug treatment and rehabilitation program, defense attorney David Chesnoff said,” KTLA reported on July 31. “Alford pleas acknowledge there is evidence to secure convictions, but do not admit guilt.”
The words “Henry Nicholas,” “billionaire” and “drug charges” have been tightly wound together for at least the last two decades. Often dismissed, but sometimes not, charges of wild drug use (as well as soliciting prostitutes) have long dogged the co-founder of Broadcom, whose net worth even today stands at about $4 billion. Incredibly, court papers later revealed that Nicholas funded the construction a secret, elaborate sex and drug lair in his Laguna Hills home, which we reported on back in this 2016 story:
Also in the summer of 2000, contractors working on a $30 million remodeling of the Nicholases’ Laguna Hills mansion created a chamber deep below that the husband hid from the wife. It would later be described in court papers as “a secret and convenient lair in which he could indulge his appetite for illegal drugs and sex with prostitutes.” It was accessed through a hidden door in the library (but presumably not by Col. Mustard with a wrench).
Around the same time, a mock up of the lair was built in a nearby warehouse, contractors allege. It had waterfalls, “a decompression room,” a five-person shower, a Jacuzzi for six and plasma TVs that rolled down from the ceiling. The décor was imported from India: Stone and bronze statues of the gods Shiva and Ganesh; antique wooden panels of people in the sexual positions described in the Kama Sutra.
Yeah, Laguna Hills. Just because a man has money, it doesn’t mean he’s got good judgment.
No OC Weekly reporter knew Nicholas better than Dave Wielenga, who sat down with the chatty billionaire (though he only had a paltry $2 billion at the time) for a good deal longer than most of us would have survived for this 2004 profile. Though written a decade and a half ago, the story nails Nicholas’s energy, drive, and bottomless ambition:
How does being a multibillionaire not make somebody at least a little bit bonkers? Maybe if they’re already made a little bit that way. By the end of the day with Henry T. Nicholas III, it had become clear that he’s pretty much the same guy he would have been with any sized bank account. He has a brilliant intellect that won’t let him alone—or you, either. He’s the jawboning buzz saw you find yourself next to in a bar or on a plane or sometimes standing on a street corner, blabbing away to nobody in particular. He has a mind like a tack, a heart of gold and a very hard ass. He is the nicest, brightest guy you just know would be the boss from hell at a company he’d make sure never went out of business.
Making $2 billion has barely begun to teach Nicholas how to live with that kind of money. How to raise his kids with it. How to relate to his old friends or make new ones. How to recognize the limits of what money can buy, not only himself, but also, maybe more important, others. Because now Nicholas is living in a world of so many problems that his money might solve—and so many more that it cannot. Where do you begin to make those judgments when faced with countless appeals to your generosity? Or do you just forget the whole thing and get a thicker, darker layer of window tint on your limo?
Confronted with those questions, Nicholas slowed down for the first time all day. “It’s hard,” he admitted. “It boils down to individual decisions in countless situations day after day. But I realize I am in a position where I can make a difference—and I have decided that if I can, I must. At the same time, though, the responsibility to try to help brings with it a responsibility to make sure I am really helping—that the situation is for real or that I am helping in the most productive way. But there is a whole cottage industry of parasites who make it their business to be friends of billionaires. The problem is that because they have an agenda, they are often better with you than your real friends, who don’t know how to act with you anymore. And then there are the bullshitters. Maybe they have hard-luck tales to tell or maybe they want advice. In general, you constantly encounter people who treat you differently because of the money or just because they perceive you as a success.”
Doesn’t $2 billion pretty much advance the perception of Nick’s success to the point of confirming it? With that question, he ramped up to warp speed again.
“All I’ve done is make money,” he scoffed. “I have achieved none of my goals. All I can say is that I still have a chance of achieving them—if in five years, Broadcom has changed the world, if we think of the Internet the way we think of dial tone. The fact that nobody talks about dial tone means it is a success. The fact that we do nothing but talk about the Internet means it’s a piece of shit. There is a long way to go.”
Nicholas’s ambitions may be bold, even good, but the human body named Henry T. Nicholas III has always been his greatest obstacle. At the end of the 2004 piece, Nicholas offered Wielenga a chance to drive his Lamborghini. Wielenga thought about it, then declined. It was a wise decision.
“In November 2007, Nicholas crashed his 1999 Lamborghini Diablo into a light pole on Coast Highway, according to his lawyer, who conceded his client left the scene of the accident while his security guard stayed to take the rap,” then-Weekly staff writer Matt Coker reported in 2016. Six months later, in April 2008, Nicholas checked himself into rehab.
So it goes.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.