A trip to Honduras suddenly turns ugly, but three RE/MAX heroes step in to help
Heather R. Johnson
For house hunter Amanda LaRoque, a brief trip to Roatán, Honduras, suddenly turned into a nightmare.
Roatán, the largest Bay Island of Honduras, has a growing, tight-knit expatriate community. Many are drawn by the lush, green surroundings, pearly beaches and the azure Caribbean Sea. Roatán’s West Bay and West End boast a growing enclave of hotels, restaurants, bars and amenities.
LaRoque was taking in the sights and soaking up the sun between showings when things went bad. Arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking, she found herself spending a week in a small, sweltering jail cell known locally as “The Cage.”
If not for LaRoque’s RE/MAX agent, Edi Massaro – with an assist from Associate Barbara Noel and RE/MAX Bay Islands Broker/Owner Larry Schlesser – she might still be there.
LaRoque, 51, is no drug lord. The Raleigh, North Carolina, resident ventured down to Honduras to find a retirement retreat for herself and her husband, Brandon, who didn’t join her on the trip. Her mistake: carrying an empty traveler’s safe in her luggage.
The safe, designed to look like a can of iced tea, is useful for hiding cash. But, on a Sunday, as LaRoque prepared to return to Raleigh, airport security cut through the container. A white, powdery sealant spilled out. The guards assumed they’d found a cocaine smuggler. LaRoque was arrested and led away.
As soon as he heard the news, Brandon LaRoque phoned the only contact he had, Massaro – but he missed her. Later, the agent, coming inside from a swim in the sea, saw the missed call from Raleigh on her phone. Was the couple ready to make an offer? She called back.
“Once Brandon started talking, my heart sank,” Massaro says. “I had just one thought – make sure Amanda was OK. She’d told me about the iced tea can during lunch two days before, and at the time I’d thought it was good idea.”
It was Sunday evening, and Massaro, Noel and Schlesser made call after call in hopes of finding an attorney. Finally, one answered. Noel also reached a doctor who could check on LaRoque’s well-being.
“There are no facilities in Roatán jails,” Massaro says. “There’s no shower, no food, no toilet paper. Your family is responsible. The lawyer, Jose Castillo, brought toilet paper, snacks, water and juice for Amanda because he knew – we all knew – what it was like.”
Fighting for justice
Throughout the ordeal, Massaro, Noel and Schlesser worked behind the scenes to get LaRoque out of jail and keep her healthy while she was there. “I needed help, and the only people I knew on the island were Edi and Barbara Noel,” LaRoque says.
RE/MAX was like LaRoque’s Roatán family, and while she will be the last to admit it, Massaro was there for LaRoque every day throughout the ordeal. On the Central American island, agents show clients where to shop, where to eat and where to find a doctor. They help them navigate local customs and find streets with no signs.
“That’s why we share a lot of listings between offices,” Massaro says. “We don’t hesitate to ask for help or lean on each other. We always get the job done as a team, as a family and on behalf of RE/MAX.”
LaRoque sat in jail for five days until authorities tested the material. Massaro stayed by her side while they waited for the test results – negative. The local court dismissed the charges, and Massaro made arrangements for Amanda and Brandon LaRoque to stay at a local resort overnight for free. Finally, a warm shower.
But the nightmare wasn’t over.
The district attorney inexplicably refused to turn over LaRoque’s passport and promptly went on vacation. LaRoque was free, but still a prisoner.
Massaro wouldn’t rest easy until the LaRoques were safely back home in Raleigh. She arranged for the couple to stay at the resort for a few more days. Once the passport was returned, Massaro drove the couple to the airport and stayed until the plane was off the ground.
Humility and selflessness
Massaro, a Roatán resident for over 20 years, says locals don’t flaunt their success. Similarly, Massaro doesn’t talk much about how she helped LaRoque during the worst week of her life.
“I knew she would need support, and I knew how to help,” she says. “I literally put myself in her shoes.”
The LaRoques put their home-shopping plans on hold. “Right now, I’m not in any hurry to leave the country again,” Amanda LaRoque says.
For his part, Schlesser decided to try to pull something positive from a decidedly horrible situation. In August, he donated a drug test kit to the Roatán airport in hopes of preventing future false arrests.
“When there’s a shortcoming, someone needs to step up and get it addressed.”