Entrapped

Hollywood police used a Bahamian Casanova to set up Valarie Curry

It seemed nothing more than a lustful encounter. Valarie Curry, a pretty, slender, 33-year-old black woman with straight black hair that hung in strands just above her shoulders, was an optician at a Pearle Vision store in Hollywood. Leon Mackey was a handsome, five-foot-nine, 200-pound, 30-year-old Bahamian.

They met in late May 2000. Mackey walked into the store in Oakwood Plaza and told Curry he needed to have his eyeglasses adjusted. "We have a lot of visitors that come in and need glasses, especially people from the Bahamas," Curry says. When those shoppers would arrive, employees would refer them to Curry, whose mother is Bahamian.

The two hit it off instantly. "We talked about the basic life, the old president, just stuff about the Bahamas," Curry remembers. She came to know Mackey well over the next three weeks. He visited Pearle Vision nearly every day, and when Curry and her coworkers gathered at TGI Friday's on Friday at 8 p.m., as they did every week, Mackey sat across the bar. "He was always in eye view," she recalls. "If I sat on the end [of the bar], he sat on the other end."

In fact, Mackey's pursuit of Curry landed the optician in trouble at work, she says. He'd call every day, sometimes as many as ten times a shift. "Any time I got to work, Leon Mackey called," she says. "He would just continue to call and nag, call and nag. I got wrote up for it, let's put it that way. I got reprimanded for it."

"A little boasty, his demeanor," remembers 33-year-old Wayne Henry, a former Pearle Vision employee from Jamaica. Henry generally answered the phone. "He called a lot," Henry says.

But Mackey's persistence worked. On Wednesday, June 14, Curry's husband, Whitney, left their home in Hallandale Beach and moved temporarily to the Bahamas. She had to support two kids, 14-year-old Alquavia and 4-year-old Laquitney, on her $12.50-per-hour job. The next day, Mackey strolled into Pearle Vision. "I was kinda depressed and let out that my husband had left me," Curry remembers telling Mackey. "I had a mortgage. I had to worry about all this other stuff that I never had to worry about. He listened. Then, the next day, he had called me at work and said, 'Let me take you out to dinner. '"

Curry invited along a friend, 19-year-old Giselle Schillingford. The pair met Mackey and a friend of his named Chad at TGI Friday's the next evening. Curry had two glasses of Long Island Iced Tea, a potent mixture of vodka, tequila, rum, gin, and Triple Sec. Mackey didn't drink alcohol, Curry remembers. "We drank. We ate. They paid for our dinner," she says.

Mackey explained to the women that he was a pilot who flew charters between Florida and the Bahamas. He was clearly interested in a romance. When Curry left the table to go to the restroom, Mackey leaned over and spoke privately to Schillingford about his hopes of winning Curry's affection. "He was saying that, if she wants to be with him, she doesn't have to worry about nothing, and her bills will be paid and, like, you know, basically this type stuff..." Schillingford recalls. "Her kids will be taken care of."

After dinner, Curry drove Mackey to his hotel room at La Quinta Inn and Suites at 2620 N. 26th Ave., near Oakwood Plaza. She pulled the car into a dark, empty space and turned off the engine. They kissed. They fondled. Mackey performed oral sex on her. Mackey was "trying to coax me into the hotel room," Curry says. "But I didn't go in. I didn't feel right. I just wanted to go home. I left him after midnight sometime. It wasn't what I wanted. Somehow, it wasn't it."

For the next three weeks, Curry continued to reject Mackey, though he gave her money, visited her at work, and showered her with gifts. She ultimately paid for it. Acting as a confidential informant for the Hollywood Police Department, Mackey later set Curry up in a cocaine transaction. On October 3, 2000, a six-person jury found her guilty of trafficking in cocaine. Broward Circuit Judge Ilona M. Holmes sentenced her to ten years in prison.

On May 26, 2004, the three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeals unanimously overturned Curry's conviction, ruling that Hollywood police "manufactured" the crime and that Curry had been entrapped. On September 1, 2004, she was finally released from state prison after nearly three years behind bars.

The appellate court's finding in Curry's case is yet another setback for the Hollywood Police Department, the third-largest law enforcement agency in Broward County and among the most brutal in the nation, according to the Tallahassee-based Police Complaint Center. For the past decade, the department has been dogged by brutality and civil rights complaints. The last two Officers of the Year, Joe Pendergrast and Pete Salvo, have been sued for, respectively, breaking a captive's ankle and being involved in a drug addict's death. In November, an expert testified that officers had doctored a videotape to convict ex-con Donald Baker. And last week, former Police Chief Richard Witt won $201,100 after proving he was fired in 1996 for exposing corruption.

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