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.
A deeper look at the Curry case, which was headed by narcotics Detective John Murray, shows that shoddy police work led to the entrapment. It further shows how misconduct masquerading as aggressive investigation pervades the department's culture. Murray declined to comment for this article. Mackey, currently in federal custody awaiting deportation after admitting to beating a girlfriend and stealing $3,000, could not be reached.
"I know why Mackey did what he did," Curry says. "It has to be scorn. I rejected him."
The ninth of ten children, Curry was born Valarie Brown in Hollywood to a Bahamian mother, Emerald Roberts, and an American father, Wilson Brown. Unlike many of her siblings, she was from the start an American citizen. She lived a reasonably common childhood, attending elementary school in Hollywood and then South Broward High.
After high school, she worked a series of odd jobs, mostly entry-level clerical jobs at area hospitals. She fell in love with her high school sweetheart, Alfonso McGee, and the two had a daughter, Alquavia, in 1986, when Brown was 19 years old. McGee and Brown never married; Curry raised her daughter alone. "She is a good parent to her child, or children, as far as I know," says John Hardwick, a Hallandale Beach barber and Curry acquaintance.
Curry admits that she had one prior brush with the law when she was 22 years old. In 1988, she says, Bahamian police arrested her after they found her sister trying to board a plane with cocaine. She spent five years in prison in the Bahamas. But according to attorneys who worked on her case in Broward, the conviction was later overturned and the records expunged.
Cocaine trafficking from the Bahamas across the roughly 50 miles of sea to Florida is a decades-old enterprise. The year Curry was arrested in the Bahamas, the island chain thrived as a major transfer point for Caribbean and South American cocaine smugglers. The U.S. Coast Guard seized 11,800 pounds of cocaine in 1988, stopping only 5 to 7 percent of the total amount believed to be shipped into the country, according to Coast Guard estimates at the time. The porous border between the Bahamas and the United States made people like Curry and her sister potential targets for authorities, who were cracking down with unusual zeal in the late '80s.
After serving time in the Bahamas, Valarie met Whitney Curry, and the couple married in January 1995. One year later, Laquitney was born. In 1997, the couple purchased a 1,453-square-foot home in Hallandale Beach, near Dixie Highway, for $44,000. Behind it was a small in-law's quarters the couple rented out to help pay the mortgage. The next year, Curry landed a job at Pearle Vision and enrolled in McFatter Technical Center in Davie to earn an optician's certificate.
Although no records indicate that Curry was involved in drug trafficking, several people surrounding her have been implicated in such activity. James Williams, a 46-year-old family friend, was caught with cocaine in Tennessee, New Jersey, and Florida in the mid-'80s. He's now a pastor in South Carolina. McGee, the father of Curry's first child, is serving 28 years in state prison for four 1999 felony cocaine charges. Those weren't isolated incidents. Hollywood police first nabbed McGee for cocaine possession in 1988. And Curry's brother, John Bousfield, was a crack dealer in South Broward whose first bust was in March 2000.
Whether Leon Mackey, the Bahamian Casanova who claimed to be a pilot, knew of Curry's family history is unclear. But it is clear that after she rejected Mackey, he continued to pursue her.
"He wanted a relationship," Curry says. "I was not ready for it. I was dealing with my mortgage and trying to get over my husband."
On July 4, roughly six weeks after the two met, Mackey called Curry's cell phone. He explained that he had a way to help her out financially. "He said he came across some cocaine that he brought over on the plane that he rides and he needed me to help him get rid of it and that would be my money for the mortgage and to help me out," Curry recalls. "At first, I said no."
But things were tight. Curry's $659 mortgage payment was due. Laquitney needed day care. The bank had threatened to repossess her car. Credit card bills were piling up. Her mother, who had recently been diagnosed with throat cancer, needed help financially. Mackey's proposal came at a time of weakness. "It was like someone slammed my head against the wall," Curry says. "That's how it felt. My whole world was crashing down."
Curry had the connection. Bousfield, a brother three years older, dealt drugs and needed suppliers. She could make easy money, she thought, acting as a broker between two people she trusted. "At that moment," friend Schillingford remembers, "she had her mortgage, she had her kids, her husband had left her, and I guess temptation brought her to it."
Curry would have never been enticed, she says, had Mackey not been trying to seduce her. "I know it was my decision, period," she says. "But I was desperate. Desperate."
Curry didn't know that Mackey was a party boy who had an unfortunate gift for running into the law at inconvenient times and who'd been in and out of trouble since coming to Florida from the Bahamas in the mid-'90s. Nor did she know that he was a police informant. His full name was Lorenzo Leon Mackey, though he often went by the alias Lorenzo Bodie.
At 10:10 p.m. on August 28, 1995, five years before he met Curry, Mackey was stopped by Polk County Sheriff's deputies outside Briggitt Collins' house. Collins, a former girlfriend who had filed a restraining order against Mackey, reported to police that the man had been banging on all the doors and windows. She said that she wouldn't let him in and that Mackey was menacing her.
Sheriff's deputies searched Mackey's car and found "three packages that were packaged to look like kilograms of narcotics," according to the police report. They opened them. Inside, the deputies found Bibles. Mackey told the cops that he was working undercover for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). That seemed unlikely. "The defendant could not provide a full name or number for the alleged agent he was working for," the deputy wrote in his report. Mackey later pleaded guilty to trespassing; adjudication was withheld.
Two weeks later, on September 10, police in Winter Haven nabbed him for stealing a car. The charges were later dropped. No additional information is available. Daytona Beach police cited him twice for disorderly intoxication in 1996. On February 14, 1997, police in Tampa arrested Mackey after he racked up a $75 taxi fare and then couldn't pay. He allegedly told the cabbie that he didn't have any money because a wire transfer from the Bahamas hadn't come through, according to the police report. He pleaded guilty to petty larceny, a misdemeanor, and paid restitution and court costs.
All the while, Mackey appeared to be building a life in South Florida. In the mid-'90s, he struck up a relationship with Kristy Scott, a Fort Lauderdale woman four years his junior, and the couple had twin boys on July 26, 1997. Fatherhood must have had a calming influence on Mackey. A three-year gap in his rap sheet begins in February 1997. Sometime between then and May 2000, the couple split, and Mackey moved into a room at the Hollywood La Quinta Inn.
Scott, who could not be reached for comment, moved the twins to Fayetteville, North Carolina, but encouraged Mackey to have a role in their lives, according to court records filed in Miami-Dade County.
In 1999, about a year before Mackey met Curry, the Bahamian man called the South Broward Drug Enforcement Agency Task Force, a kind of local DEA. John Murray, a Hollywood police narcotics detective who at that time had 18 years' experience on the force, fielded the call. Mackey claimed to have worked with the DEA and police in Washington, D.C., and the Bahamas.
Murray arranged to meet Mackey in a parking lot. "We had a conversation regarding, you know, how we work, you know, what he had in mind, and, you know, if he had any specific targets..." Murray said. "He didn't have anything at all. As a matter of fact, I believe, after that conversation, he left the area, and we didn't see him for maybe a little over a year."
In 2000, Mackey called back. This time, he had a mark: Valarie Curry. "The informant advised us that [Curry] had several subjects that were looking to purchase cocaine," recalled Murray's partner, Detective James Callari.
The case was perfect for Murray. In 2000, the year of Curry's bust, the detective specialized in reverse stings. He made at least 18 such busts that year, according to commendations listed in his personnel file. Reverse stings are an aggressive form of law enforcement in which police agencies pursue buyers rather than dealers. But, Callari explained in court, "If people are looking for it, we will sell it." Many agencies have since quit employing the process.
Most of the cocaine used for reverse stings in South Florida comes from the DEA or FBI. At any given time, Callari said in court, Hollywood police have about 20 kilograms at their disposal.
In his meeting with police, Mackey explained to the detectives that Curry had discussed drugs and "had numerous individuals looking to purchase large-scale amounts of cocaine powder," Murray said in court. Murray also claimed that he was unaware that Mackey had pursued a romantic relationship with Curry. "She was an employee at an eyeglass place," Murray said, "and he went in there to purchase some eyeglasses and engaged in conversation with the defendant."
How much Hollywood police knew about Mackey and his prior relationship with Curry is crucial. When asked in court whether he had verified Mackey's claims of working for the DEA and police in Washington, D.C., Murray said he talked to one official but could not recall the agency. "I'm pretty sure it was a detective in Orlando," he said vaguely. Had Detective Murray known that Mackey was romantically rejected by the mark, he might have realized the sting operation was improper. If he didn't know of the liaison, it's clear that he failed to properly vet his confidential informant.
Prior to any conversations taped by Hollywood police, Mackey had asked Curry if she could help him sell cocaine. She said she would talk to her brother, Bousfield. On July 6 at 10:12 p.m., Mackey called Curry and handed the phone to Detective Murray, who posed as a drug dealer named Jay.
The pair arranged to meet two days later. Curry didn't know she'd be performing in front of a camera.
On July 8 at 12:30 p.m., Murray set the stage for his drug sting. He parked his red, two-door Ford Explorer outside the Oakwood Plaza Pearle Vision. From another unmarked police car, an officer trained a video camera on the SUV. Leon Mackey, dressed in a tight, light-blue shirt and jeans shorts that extended just past his knees, wore a police wire strapped to his body. He walked inside the optical store to fetch Valarie Curry.
Nearly an hour later, Mackey reappeared. Behind him walked Curry, dressed in a lightweight white blazer and white pants. The police camera panned across the parking lot as the informant and his target made their way to the Explorer. Curry sat down in the passenger seat. Mackey waited anxiously outside.
Murray, a tall man with sandy blond hair and a full beard wearing a light-blue Sears mechanics shirt, sat in the Explorer's driver's seat. "It's busy in there?" he asked, posing as Jay.
"Saturday is crazy," Curry answered. "Everybody wants glasses on Saturday. I had a whole big family. The kids, the mother -- everybody needed glasses."
What Murray says next is inaudible, but he clearly introduces drugs into the conversation. Curry brings up Bousfield, who she said sells drugs. "That's my brother's area," she says. "Everything's all right. For me, I ain't no trafficker. I used to traffic drugs a lot in the '80s... I know what's going on. But I haven't been around in so long."
Curry was boasting. She now claims that Mackey had prepped her on what to say. "I was just talking shit, to tell you the truth," she says. "Talking shit for him to feel comfortable. 'You have to make him feel like you know what you're doing.' That's what Leon told me."
The videotape continues. "I'm getting ready to drop a half [kilo] off to somebody else," Murray says, showing Curry a plastic bag filled with white powder. "That's beautiful, huh?"
"That's nice," Curry responds. "Yeah, man, that's all I used to do, Freeport, Nassau. Man, we had a customer who was working with us, and he used to let us go straight through [security]."
"Oh, I wish I would have known you a long time ago..."
"OK, well, he got my number," Curry says, referring to Mackey. "You can get my number. I'm working here 12 to 5..."
"Maybe I'll come get some glasses," Murray says jokingly.
But it wasn't glasses that Murray wanted. It was Curry. Twelve days later, on Thursday, July 20, 2000, the final taped phone call came at 11:20 p.m. Curry looked at her cell phone and recognized the number. It was Jay.
The two arranged to meet an hour later in the parking lot at the TGI Friday's in Oakwood Plaza. Curry would buy a two-ounce sample for $600. If it was good, she'd become the go-between for Murray and her brother.
At midnight, Curry pulled up in her sister's 1995 Toyota Camry. Two spots over was the red Ford Explorer. Curry walked over and saw Jay in the passenger seat. He stepped out of the vehicle.
"Where's Leon [Mackey]?" Curry asked.
"He had to make a run," she remembered Jay replying.
Curry gave the detective the $600. He handed her a small bag. The deal was done. She walked back to her car, placed the bag in the back seat, and headed toward the bar, where two of her friends were waiting to have drinks.
Then it happened. Police officers moved in from behind. "They grabbed me and slammed me on the ground," Curry recalled. Still in front of TGI Friday's, she saw Jay once more. Only then did Curry learn that he was a narcotics detective.
Murray would be commended six days later. "Great Job!" Sgt. Ken Haberland and Lt. James Futch scribbled on the commendation submitted to Murray's personnel file.
Curry would never again hear from Mackey.
In court, Murray claimed that Mackey was paid $300 for the information that led to Curry's arrest. That paltry amount seems to lend support to Curry's claim that Mackey set her up in retaliation for not dating him. During their brief relationship, Mackey gave Curry $150 for an electric bill, money for gas, and gifts from the Bahamas. In addition, he bought her dinner and drinks.
At best, Mackey broke even with the $300 payday. It's unlikely his interest was financial. During a September 30, 2001, hearing in Curry's trial, Murray claimed to be unaware of Mackey's romantic relationship with Curry.
"Do you talk to CIs about sexual encounters?" Judge Ilona M. Holmes asked the detective.
"No sexual encounters after the initial meetings, because sometimes confidential informants run into people on their own, you know, before any police involvement," Murray replied, seeming to suggest that prior sexual involvement would be tolerable. "Once that contact is made, we advise the confidential informant that there's to be no more additional contact with this person unless there's police presence or police control. And we are pretty adamant about the instructions."
"Do you know Ms. Curry is alleging that she was entrapped?" Holmes asked.
"And she has testified to some sort of sexual relationship with the alleged CI?"
"Was contact monitored by police?" Holmes asked.
"Was the CI monitored as far as phone conversations? Yes. And once the investigation started, we initiated full-time monitoring of the CI. We instructed the confidential informant not to have any contact of any sort without our control..."
"I think what is a little concerning for this court is the allegation of sexual contact between her and the confidential informant," Holmes said.
"No," Murray replied. "I'm unaware of any prior relationship and any relationship during the investigation. Right after this hearing we had here, I confronted the confidential informant, and the CI adamantly denied any sexual involvement with Ms. Curry."
In the months and years after Curry's arrest, Mackey -- who continued to work as an informant for the Hollywood police on as many as 20 cases -- proved to be an ambitious ladies' man with a flair for roughing up his women. On August 2, 2000, less than two weeks after Curry's arrest, North Miami Beach Police reported to Manors Court Apartments at 13890 NE Third Ct. after reports of a verbal dispute.
Mackey and his girlfriend (who is not named in the report) were arguing in the parking lot. Mackey allegedly grabbed the woman's hair and took her purse, which contained $3,000 in cash and some credit cards, then fled in his car. Five days later, Mackey surrendered to police and was charged with strong-arm robbery. "I didn't hit her," Mackey told the officers. "I just took her purse." He bonded out the next day, finally pleading guilty on January 25, 2002. Adjudication was withheld and the sentence suspended after Mackey agreed to enter a domestic-violence intervention program.
The program didn't help much. On June 23, 2003, one month after having his driver's license suspended following a third DUI offense, Mackey allegedly beat up 36-year-old Christine Delarese Stubbs-Bodie, whom he had married using the name on his Bahamian papers, Lorenzo Bodie. After striking Stubbs-Bodie at an apartment at 2525 N. Ocean Dr. in Hollywood, Mackey took her cell phone.
At first, Stubbs-Bodie didn't want to file a police report because her husband "knew some police officers in the city of Hollywood and she was afraid that she might be retaliated against," according to a statement she gave Hollywood police on November 3, 2003. Stubbs-Bodie declined to comment when reached by New Times.
The following May, Aventura Police Officer Emilio Perez saw a blue Ford Expedition with an Illinois tag weaving in traffic on Biscayne Boulevard, nearly sideswiping a car. Perez stopped the SUV. The black man in the driver's seat told the officer that he didn't have his license. His name, he said, was Lorenzo Lee Bodie. "I never had a driver's license in the United States, only in the Bahamas," he told the officer. Perez went back to his cruiser to verify the information. The Expedition checked out fine, apparently on loan from a friend in Illinois, but the officer discovered that Lorenzo Lee Bodie was an alias for Lorenzo Leon Mackey. His driver's license was suspended.
The officer informed Mackey, who was standing near the police cruiser, that he was under arrest. "No!" he shouted. Mackey turned and walked toward his vehicle, then began to run. He started to climb into the driver's seat. Perez fired his Taser at Mackey, sending an electrical current through the man's body. Mackey fell to the ground.
Aventura police later learned that Mackey had an active warrant related to the 2002 guilty plea for robbing his girlfriend. Because the charge was a felony, the federal government wanted to send him back to the Bahamas and ordered him into Immigration and Naturalization Service custody in Bradenton to await deportation.
On September 1, 2004, Mackey sent a handwritten letter to Miami-Dade County Judge Scott J. Silverman asking that he vacate the previous guilty plea. "I have my kids and they all look to me for everything," Mackey wrote. "I am a good man. I don't do anything to brake [sic] the law. Sometime, thing [sic] happen and we don't have know [sic] control of it... My kids are on the line."
Silverman denied the motion. The federal government ruled to deport Mackey. He now sits in a holding cell in Bradenton, having appealed his deportation.
It's 11 a.m. on a chilly morning in late December. Valarie Curry, wearing blue jeans and a matching jeans top that buttons up the middle, sits anxiously in front of a conference table at her attorney's office in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Across the table is her husband, Whitney Curry, sitting silent and stone-faced. The couple reconciled in October 2000, one month before Curry was sent to prison.
Whitney and the kids visited weekly when she was incarcerated in Broward and Miami-Dade. But when the state moved her nearly 300 miles north to Lowell Correctional Institute in Ocala, the visits became more sporadic. Curry spent three years in "hell," as she calls it, cut off from her husband and children.
But now Curry is a free woman again. On May 26, 2004, the Fourth District Court of Appeals overturned her conviction, ruling that Hollywood police entrapped her. "In sum, there was no crime without the CI's prodding and improper conduct, which rose to the level of egregious," the appeals court ruled.
"Egregious isn't a word you see very often in these rulings," says Bruce Rogow, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. "When the police use someone like this, they're operating at a risk. They have a very serious responsibility, when using a paid informant, to ensure the highest ethical standards. People who are willing to be paid informants are looking to please their masters. Sometimes, they run amok."
Since being released from prison on September 1, Curry has been attending counseling, slowly transitioning back to freedom. Pearle Vision hired her back. She now works in customer service at the Galleria Mall location and has applied to renew her optometric certification.
What she now wants from the city of Hollywood is clear: money. In December 2004, her attorneys, R. Brent Curd Jr. and Craig S. Esquenazi, notified the city of their intent to sue. Detective Murray's failure to properly vet Mackey as a legitimate confidential informant makes the city liable for damages, the attorneys allege.
Curry's case is reminiscent of one of the worst incidents of misconduct in the Hollywood Police Department's history. On January 31, 1996, officers arrested 19-year-old Hollywood resident Dwight Edman after he and a friend left the Ventura Motel at 720 N. Federal Hwy. to buy pizza. Police alleged that Edman sold a rock of crack cocaine to Lt. Jeffrey Marano. Edman alleged that he was strip-searched and that interrogators squeezed pressure points behind his ears. Later, Marano admitted in a deposition that Edman never had anything to do with a crack deal. Edman won a $750,000 federal jury award on December 16, 1998.
Curry is hoping for the same.
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