BROOKSVILLE — Last November, months before a domestic incident at his Spring Hill house turned the spotlight on Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson, a sheriff’s deputy was parking out front, investigating what appeared to be prostitution.
During the surveillance, a number of men walked into the residence on Tiburon Avenue with Valerie Surette, a woman living there, and closed the garage door, according to the investigative report. A mattress leaning against the wall was pulled down, apparently so she could conduct a sex-for-money "transaction,’’ the report said. The men left 11 to 23 minutes later, one handing Surette money in full view of the officer.
The surveillance, prompted by neighbors concerned about the traffic and short stays, is detailed in the latest documents released by the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office regarding Nicholson. He was suspended by the governor on April 26 after deputies arrested him on one count of running a house of prostitution and two counts of prostitution.
"Nick has been a community leader for many years and a commissioner for many years,’’ said Nicholson’s attorney Peyton Hyslop. "Hopefully everybody will wait until this case plays out completely before passing judgment.’’
Earlier reports hung the charges largely on statements by Kendel Surette, who was arrested at Nicholson’s house February 20 and charged with domestic violence against his wife, Valerie. Charges against the husband were dropped.
Kendel Surette said he and his wife had lived at the house for six months, and that Nicholson provided their housing, food and money for drug treatment in exchange for having sex with Valerie Surette. Nicholson also paid the woman $100 for sex on Tuesdays and $200 for sex on Saturdays, the husband said.
Valarie Surette also sold sex with other former customers of the strip club where she worked, which she performed in their cars in Nicholson’s driveway and in the garage, she told deputies.
The new reports reveal a cell phone video taken by Kendel Surette. In it, Nicholson talks about withholding money from Melinda Baker — the woman he is alleged to have paid for sex on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — because she was spending too much time with her boyfriend.
Also in the file are summaries of text messages between Nicholson and the women about sex-for-money transactions. And deputies provided transcripts of a phone call they set up between Nicholson and Baker about a sexual transaction, recorded several weeks after the domestic violence incident.
In the monitored call, Baker asked Nicholson if she could be 15 minutes later than their arranged meeting time that day, and Nicholson agreed. She asked him about payment.
"Well I normally give you $50’’ for a specific sex act, Nicholson responded.
"That will work," Baker said. "Thank you. See you in a little while.’’
Deputies advised her not to go to Nicholson’s residence, but observed her there for about an hour later that day.
The new files describe Baker as another former stripper who lived with Nicholson for three years, trading sex for room, board and money.
She worked briefly as a secretary at his Brooksville engineering office, deputies said. Nicholson made Baker move out of his house when he invited the Surettes to move in, Baker told deputies.
Nicholson was with Baker when she smoked methamphetamine and when she bought the drug, she said.
Valerie Surette told deputies that Nicholson knew she was hooked on pain pills and facilitated her drug purchases.
"Valerie described a scenario where Nicholson would pick her up at her residence, then drive her to her drug dealer’s residence, provide Valerie with cash for the pills and wait in the car as she went to purchase the pills, or he would just sit in the vehicle while the drug dealer approached the vehicle and completed the drug transaction right there in front of him,’’ the report said.
Kendel Surette told deputies: "He has personally observed Mr. Nicholson smoke marijuana with Valerie and that Mr. Nicholson drinks heavily almost every evening.’’
Both Valerie Surette and Baker told deputies that Nicholson threatened to withdraw his payments and kick them out if they stopped having sex with him. Each said they protested some of the sexual acts he asked them to perform, but did them anyway because they were dependent on his money. Deputies offered each of them help out of the situation, and each refused.
The report makes clear the women knew that Nicholson was a public figure.
On the night of the domestic dispute at Nicholson’s house, one of the responding deputies wrote, "Once Valerie realized Kendel was being arrested, she became enraged and stated twice, ‘Nicholas is the commissioner. He’ll take your jobs and take your budget.’’’
The videotaped exchange from several weeks earlier included Baker threatening Nicholson after he said he may stop payments.
"You don’t scare me, Nick,’’ Baker said. "All these text messages you send me, I am going to f___ your life up.’’
Nicholson’s response: "Go ahead, f___ my life up. I don’t care anymore."
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.