Donnie Collins-Currie told Buffalo police his barber and others snatched him off Niagara Street last fall and held him captive in a basement for more than three days.
The tale sounded credible, especially after Collins-Currie was found tied up and unconscious on the side of the Niagara Thruway.
His family thought it might be a hate crime, while the barber was charged with multiple felonies and sat in jail for a week.
But now authorities say the story Collins-Currie told amounts to something else: a fabrication. And the 41-year-old may soon face charges himself.
During the time he claimed he was being held captive in a Buffalo basement, authorities have surveillance video of him using an ATM in a Riverside mini-mart, according to Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn. They also have a receipt for pizza purchased using his bank card and that was delivered to a co-worker’s home, a receipt that contains his own signature.
And to top it all off, authorities also have video from a house on Crowley Avenue from about 90 minutes before he was found tied up off the Vulcan Street exit on the I-190. The video shows Collins-Currie parking his car, apparently uninjured, and walking toward the highway.
“When we confronted him with all this evidence,” Flynn said, “his answer was, ‘I don’t remember. I don’t know.' ”
The man on the other side of the allegations, Pablo O. Alicea, said news of his arrest decimated business at his barbershop, Xclusive Cuts.
Alicea, who had faced charges of kidnapping, robbery, assault and grand larceny, saw the criminal case against him dismissed Tuesday by Buffalo City Court Judge James A.W. McLeod.
Outside the courtroom, Alicea said he maintained his innocence from the first time Buffalo police came to his Niagara Street shop. His attorney, Thomas J. Eoannou, said authorities never provided any evidence that corroborated the victim’s allegations.
“There was an allegation, an allegation only,” Eoannou said, “and it just goes to show how dangerous it can be because an innocent man’s business has been essentially financially ruined based on an allegation that apparently is not true.”
Collins-Currie told police the abduction happened when he was inside the barbershop Oct. 12.
Shortly before noon on Oct. 16, someone called police to report a man on the ground near the Vulcan Street off-ramp.
Police and emergency responders at the scene found Collins-Currie breathing and unresponsive, with his hands tied behind his back with a cellphone charging cord.
After he was taken to Erie County Medical Center, Collins-Currie regained consciousness. That’s when, Flynn said, he gave his first account of what happened to an investigator with the State Police.
He said he was forced into the back of a van and tied up. He said he didn't remember anything else. The case was turned over to the Buffalo Police Department, and later that night a detective interviewed him at ECMC.
“He miraculously remembers more,” Flynn said.
In this version, Collins-Currie said he was outside the barbershop with Alicea. He told police a bag was placed over his head and he was put into a vehicle. He heard the voices of people speaking Spanish, including Alicea.
He said his captors forced him to spend more than three days in an unfamiliar basement.
Collins-Currie said he was fed only liquids, which he believed might have contained drugs. He said his credit cards and close to $400 were taken.
On the morning of Oct. 16, he was told it was his "lucky day,” and he was driven to the Thruway, according to his story.
Donnie Collins-Currie’s husband, William, reported him missing to police on Oct. 13. Several days after Donnie was found next to the highway, William Collins-Currie told The Buffalo News he thought his husband might have been the victim of a hate crime.
Alicea, who said Donnie Collins-Currie had been a customer of his barbershop for about two years, was arrested the same night Collins-Currie talked to the detective.
At the time, he told police his wife and daughter could provide an alibi for him. He said he was at the shop when the kidnapping supposedly happened, and he also was there on Oct. 16 when the kidnapping supposedly ended.
He ended up being incarcerated for about seven days.
Eoannou said he presented prosecutors with sworn statements from people who said Alicea was at the barbershop at the times when the victim said he was participating in the abduction.
On the morning of Oct. 12, the day of the supposed abduction, Donnie Collins-Currie appeared in domestic violence court in Buffalo on charges stemming from an accusation made by his husband, William. Donnie had been arrested Sept. 21 on Doyle Avenue. He was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree harassment, according to a police report.
That case ended with Donnie Collins-Currie convicted of a noncriminal violation, Flynn said.
The evidence investigators compiled when the case was re-examined after Alicea’s arrest included a charge on Collins-Currie’s bank card on Oct. 14, when he was supposedly being held in a basement.
The charge was for a pizza delivered from Vince’s Pizza Plus to a home on Eckhert Street in Riverside. Police found the receipt, which had the victim’s signature on it, according to the district attorney.
The pizza was delivered at the home of a co-worker. A neighbor told police Collins-Currie was home “all the time” and she saw food delivered there on Oct. 14. The phone number used to place the order was from Collins-Currie’s phone.
The next day, his image was seen on video using an ATM at a mini-mart on Vulcan Street, Flynn said.
The basement he described being held in was a place he told police he’d never seen before. But in reality, he described Alicea’s basement, where he had admitted he had previously visited.
And then there’s another video recording – the one shot on Crowley Avenue, from the house next to where Collins-Currie parked his car the morning he was found next to the I-190.
At about 10:05 a.m., the video shows him in his car driving by himself on Crowley and then parking in front of a house on Crowley, near Niagara Street. He gets out of the car and walks in the general direction of the I-190.
Prosecutors aren’t sure what happened over the roughly 90 minutes between when he left the car and when he was found near the off-ramp.
Flynn said he is considering whether his office will file charges against Donnie Collins-Currie for making false statements. He also said he could only speculate about his motivation.
“While I will concur that this whole story is very unusual, and doesn’t come across my desk every day,” Flynn said, “what does come across my desk every day are dumb people.”
“And obviously this was a dumb thing to do in coming up with this story,” he said. “That I do see every day.”
Eoannou said he was pleased that authorities revisited the case.
"The system ultimately worked, but it’s unfortunate that my client, Pablo, had to go through it,” he said.
William Collins-Currie, who said he had already made a decision to file for divorce before Tuesday’s dismissal, said he hasn’t spoken with his estranged husband in more than a month. He said he was unaware of the dismissal of charges or the evidence discovered by prosecutors until informed by a News reporter.
When told the DA’s Office was considering filing charges against a man he’s had a relationship with for 22 years, he replied: “They should.”