It was an April evening, 2004. With square shoulders and the cropped hair of a '50s linebacker, Donald Michalosky had climbed the ranks of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office all the way to his current job, supervising detectives. Along the way, he had gone undercover plenty of times. The rush had mostly waned. But it was still risky, dancing with criminals like this, so his nerves tumbled as he steered toward the Uncle Gus Gyro House, a dive on East 55th.
Next to the sergeant sat a lithe, loud man named Bill Wilson. Over the years, Michalosky had become accustomed to working with guys like Wilson: guys who straddled the lines of justice, who relished being welcomed by criminals and cops alike. Wilson was a convicted felon and bounty hunter by trade. But that evening, he was working as Michalosky's CRI -- "confidential reliable informant," with the "reliable" part applied generously. But you use what you have, Michalosky explains, and on this day he had Bill Wilson.
Wilson had come to the sheriff's office a few weeks before, claiming he'd been hired by a millionaire who wanted his wife framed. Wilson played recordings of the millionaire discussing the plan.
So Michalosky strapped a bug to Wilson and dropped him off at the gyro shop. The plan was to have Wilson meet the mark -- a wealthy Brazilian businessman named Jose Lisboa -- and go over the plan. Michalosky would arrive later as the operation's muscle.
The sergeant waited in the restaurant, watching through the window as Wilson chatted up Jose in the parking lot. Soon, he joined the conversation to cement the details.
Jose wanted them to find his wife's Audi in the Flats when she was out drinking, Michalosky says. Plant cocaine in her car, Jose told them, then call the cops and rat her for driving drunk. The cops pull her over, search the car, find the coke, haul her ass to jail.
That was the plan.
It was something of a half-court heave. But if it worked, Jose would have leverage in the couple's looming divorce, where millions of dollars, ownership of their burgeoning granite and real estate empire, and custody of their only child were at stake.
Jose also instructed the men to beat the shit out of the guy he thought was screwing his wife, Michalosky says.
"He was pretty matter-of-fact," the sergeant recalls.
With audio of the entire episode recorded, sheriff's deputies arrested Jose Lisboa a few weeks later. He copped a plea and was deported. His wife won custody of the couple's daughter and control of their businesses. Michalosky moved on to the next case.
Wilson presumably moved on to the next hustle. But earlier this year, he turned up again, telling stories of an altogether different conspiracy -- one in which Kim Lisboa and her lawyer were the culprits.
This was a tale of ignored evidence, clandestine payments, and a grand conspiracy that gave birth to an even grander conspiracy.
In the Lisboas' high-stakes tug-of-war, the most conspicuous trophy is a sprawling brick building on Carnegie Avenue, near East 44th Street: the headquarters of Cleveland Granite.
It all started with a guy importing granite from his homeland. Jose Lisboa was born in São Paulo, Brazil. When he was four, his family moved to Connecticut so his father could attend business school. After high school, Jose left for Cornell, where he studied hotel management. (Through his attorneys, Jose declined to talk to Scene.)
In a finance class, he met Kimberly Klimczak, a sharply dressed blonde with an obvious knack for business. No matter how hard-to-get she played, he kept asking her out, Kim says. Eventually, she fell victim to the "quality that keeps haunting me at this point: his perseverance. He's definitely highly motivated, energetic, relentless," and he "never gave up on anything he wanted to accomplish." By the time they graduated in 1990, they were dating.
Kim grew up in Sagamore Hills. She returned to Ohio to study law at Case Western Reserve. Jose came too. In 1991, they started Cleveland Granite, first by carving out a niche -- importing Brazilian granite -- and then expanding to become one of the region's largest suppliers of granite and marble countertops.
Kim finished law school and joined the company full time. They married in 1994. Three years later, Jose transfered 51 percent of the company to her name. It was now technically female-owned, better suited for minority contracting.
As Cleveland Granite grew, the couple bought property all over Northeast Ohio, including strip malls and apartment buildings. By the time their divorce was settled, the Lisboas owned 16 companies from Cleveland Heights to Westlake, and were raking in $15 million in annual revenues.
But the flourish of business belied an exhausting and combative marriage. Kim accused Jose of abusing her; Jose complained of Kim's drinking and accused her of conspiring to steal his company.
Kim gave birth to their only child in 2001 -- and filed for divorce soon after.
In an attempt to save the marriage, Jose enrolled in anger-management classes and penned letter after letter. "How can I repair the horrible damage I created?" he wrote in November 2002. "I am changing and time will tell."
The letters worked: Kim dropped her divorce case and tried to save the marriage. But they continued to squabble, and in the fall of 2003, they gave up for good.
"I wanna get my job done," Jose is saying. It's March of 2004, and he's speeding around Cleveland, talking to his new friend about their new plan.
Things only turned uglier after Jose filed for divorce.
According to a later deposition by housekeeper Karen Plumley, Jose raged about wanting "to kill that bitch" and discussed a plan to get Kim busted for driving drunk.
The couple's determined acrimony also spilled into company headquarters, where they literally wrestled for control of Cleveland Granite. In court filings, several employees described Jose finding Kim photocopying papers. He threw her to the ground, they claimed, and tried to wrestle the papers away. A judge banned him from the building.
Around the same time, Jose began receiving calls from a guy named Bill Wilson. Wilson was calling on behalf of a contractor who'd done work for Cleveland Granite and believed the company was stiffing him. The contractor asked Wilson, an experienced bounty hunter, to collect the money.
But somehow -- it's unclear how -- Jose's relationship with Wilson changed over time. And on this afternoon, speeding around downtown, they are discussing a different proposition altogether.
Had Jose read a story in The Plain Dealer a year before, he would have stayed clear. In the article, Wilson took the odd step of publicizing his career as a police informant. Along with some members of a street gang called the Black Rangers, Wilson had been arrested by ATF agents and charged with drug and weapons possession. But according to Wilson and his lawyer, he was working with the FBI at the time of his arrest. He explained this to the feds, but they locked him up anyway. He sat in jail for six months until the charges were quietly dropped.
Jose doesn't know this when he hooks up with Wilson, but he's skeptical nonetheless. "We're gonna go for a ride," he says in a partial recording of the meeting. (The tape was made by Wilson and provided to Scene by Kim's lawyer.) "I just gotta be careful, Bill, you know? You can't play by the game. See, in Brazil, we play by survivor of the jungle. You fuck me, boom, that's it."
They climb into Jose's Audi A8, the shrill of the engine harmonizing with the sounds of Sade. Jose complains about the car's brakes and brags that the dealership is going to give him a new $120,000 car. "It's a fucking screamer," he says.
Then he switches the subject.
He tells Wilson that he wants him to meet a friend, a guy who can check Wilson out. "He thinks you're a cop," Jose says. Wilson tries to appease him, assuring Jose that he's no upstanding citizen, encouraging the friend to do a background check. "He's gonna find a record about this thick," Wilson says.
"I don't want any problems, Bill," Jose says. "I can't afford to be deported . . . I wanna get my job done."
They drive past Cleveland Granite, the company Jose built but can no longer set foot in. "I wanna show you the guy's car," Jose says. "The guy I wanna fuck up."
He points out the car of Dan Oliver, the company's production manager, who Jose believes is sleeping with Kim. (Kim has denied having an affair.) "He leaves here around five every day," Jose says.
The recording abruptly shuts off. Roger Kleinman, Kim's lawyer, says he doesn't know why it stops so suddenly. That's how it sounded when Bill Wilson showed up with it in March of 2004.
The tape "made my hair stand on end," Kleinman says. He told Wilson he wanted to call the cops. Wilson suggested the sheriff's office. That's where they found Michalosky.
Kleinman also provided Scene with a second recording, which he says is Wilson's personal recording of the gyro shop meeting. In it, Jose and Wilson can be heard arguing over when Jose will pay.
Wilson explains that he already bought the cocaine to plant in Kim's car. "You're not paying me back," he says.
"Get the job done, and then I'll pay you. I swear," Jose says. "What are you gonna want for all this?"
"Three grand for the guy --"
"You told me twenty-five hundred for Dan Oliver," Jose says, interrupting. "And what about the Kim thing?"
"At least five."
Wilson asks where he's supposed to stash the coke. Jose shows him how to open the door on his Audi -- Kim drives a similar car -- and suggests the glove compartment.
"This ain't gonna hold an ounce," Wilson says.
"Just put it right here," Jose says, suggesting an alternative.
They change topics again, then something odd happens -- something out of a bad detective show.
"What's that?" Jose asks, noticing something taped beneath Wilson's shirt.
"It's a ticker," Wilson says.
"What do you mean a ticker? For your heart?"
"No," Wilson says.
Wilson laughs, apparently trying to buy time. "You know what a ticker is?" he tries. "A pacemaker?"
"That's what I asked you, for your heart? Are you OK?"
Wilson changes subjects, but Jose remains confused.
"Can I look at it to see? Are you taping me?"
"Haven't you talked to me enough about this situation to be asking me now if I'm taping you," Wilson tells him. "Come on. Gimme a fuckin' break."
The tape gets muddled for a moment. Jose is heard saying, "Just make it happen," and it cuts off shortly after.
Get the goods and get out: That was the plan for the meeting at Uncle Gus'. And that, Michalosky says, is what happened.
Though it's not on the tape provided to Scene -- Kleinman says the second half of the meeting wasn't captured by Wilson's personal recorder -- the detective says Jose eventually slipped off his Rolex and offered it as collateral.
"Get the job done," Jose urged. As far as he knew, his Rolex would secure just that.
Of course, it never did. Three months after that meeting, a grand jury indicted Jose on three charges, including conspiracy to commit assault and possess cocaine. "He took definite, substantial steps toward this conspiracy," says Assistant County Prosecutor Jon Oebker. "It's chilling to think what he wanted to happen to his wife."
At first, Jose seemed prepared to fight. His lawyers asked Judge Bridget McCafferty to throw out the indictment. They claimed the cops coerced Jose into giving up his Rolex, and that he was frightened of Michalosky. They also said Jose called Wilson to abandon the plan right after the meeting.
Steve Cain was hired to examine the tapes. The forensic scientist with two decades' experience -- including work on the investigation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- soon found problems. Cain claimed the sheriff's office misled him, saying they gave him original recordings, but actually supplied copies. He found dozens of problems, including abrupt ends to conversations and the "possible edit" of others.
"There were enough problems with the copies that I wanted to get the originals," Cain says from his office at Forensic Tape Analysis in Wisconsin. He never did. (Michalosky says Cain was given access to everything the sheriff's department had.)
But if Cain's testimony seemed promising, the fear of prison -- he was facing up to 18 years -- must have felt equally daunting to Jose. Six months after he was indicted, he was offered a deal. He would have to plead guilty to aggravated assault and domestic violence charges. He would have to surrender his green card and voluntarily leave the United States for 10 years. He would obviously lose badly in his divorce case, giving up custody of his daughter and relinquishing control of the company he built from scratch. But he would stay out of prison.
He took the deal.
Susan Moran, Jose's new defense lawyer, says he pleaded guilty believing he would avoid deportation, leaving him eligible to reenter the United States in 10 years. But when he arrived at his first probation meeting in the days after his conviction, he was met by an immigration official.
Jose sat for months in a Bedford Heights jail, waiting to be deported, scrawling desperate letter after letter to his ex-wife. The handwritten missives cycled between rage and love. In one, he pleaded to get back together. In another, he claimed he'd "already forgotten about you."
But the letters were consistent in one way: He never wavered from his claim that she set him up. "I don't want to associate with a person like you," he wrote in one, "especially someone that can FUCK her husband to the point of deporting him with framing him!"
In another, he promised money and swore he would leave her alone -- if she would just own up to her crime. "Your criminal set up of me took away my dignity, pride, self-esteem and morale," he wrote in April 2005. "I beg you to please tell the truth and get me out of this mess."
The letters from Bedford kept coming, until June 17, 2005, when the U. S. government sent him back to Brazil.
On a snowy December evening, Kim Lisboa, in a stylish wool coat and cap, strides into the swank downtown offices of the McDonald Hopkins law firm. Kim practically lived in these offices in the months leading up to her divorce. Things eventually settled into a routine that bordered on normal, with her running Cleveland Granite, taking care of the couple's daughter, and trying to steer clear of law offices and courtrooms.
Tonight, however, she's back in a conference room, once again beside her lawyer, defending herself against not only the words of Bill Wilson, but her own.
Since Wilson was originally a witness for the prosecutors, Jose's lawyers never had a chance to talk to the informant before Jose copped his plea. But last March, they managed to arrange a meeting at a Willoughby hotel. It was there that Wilson told a much more complicated tale, one in which Kim is not an unwitting victim.
According to a transcript of that meeting, Wilson agreed that he met Jose through the contractor owed money by Cleveland Granite. Over time, Wilson said, Jose hired him to trail his wife, to see if there was anything he could use against her.
At the same time, however, the contractor was talking to Kim, working her for his money. And Kim, Wilson told Jose's lawyers, also was looking for an edge in the divorce case.
She said she could get the contractor his money -- and more -- if he could somehow set her husband up. "She wanted him deported," Wilson told the lawyers.
Kim agreed to pay Wilson and the contractor $20,000 to set up her husband, as well as the $10,000 the contractor was owed by Cleveland Granite, Wilson now claimed. It wasn't clear how they would do that, so Wilson kept hanging around Jose, fishing for information. (The contractor could not be reached by Scene and refused to talk during depositions by Jose's lawyers.)
But Wilson soon found that Jose wanted to set his spouse up, so he could get the upper hand in the divorce. He also wanted someone to put a beating on the guy he believed was sleeping with his wife.
Wilson -- who says he secretly records everything he does -- got audio evidence of Jose's desires. And that, he told the lawyers, is when he brought the recordings to Kleinman and Kim Lisboa, who brought them to Michalosky.
According to Wilson, all was going according to Kim's plan to see her husband deported.
Despite what's on the partial tapes heard by Scene, Wilson claims in an affidavit that Jose "abandoned, aborted and shunned my efforts" to frame his wife. Shortly after the meeting with Michalosky, Wilson said, he spoke with Jose by phone.
"He says, 'I don't want to have anything to do with this,'" Wilson told the lawyers. "And I go, 'You're too fucking late, it's already in motion.'"
Michalosky was sitting next to him during the conversation, Wilson claims, and the detective was provided a recording.
Susan Moran, Jose's new lawyer, says Wilson's statement corroborates a claim Jose has been making all along: that he tried to abandon the plan. "Every defendant would say, 'I retracted that,'" she says. "But where's your evidence?" In this case, she says, prosecutors had that evidence, but failed to disclose the tape.
Michalosky says he didn't hear Jose abandon the plan that day, though he admits Jose called days later. But it was too late. Jose had already committed to the plan, and Michalosky had forwarded the case to the prosecutor's office.
But Kim Lisboa was true to her word, Wilson said. She had already paid him and the contractor $10,000 for their work, and she handed Wilson $10,000 more after Jose pleaded guilty and agreed to leave the country. It was Kleinman who handed him the money.
Moreover, two months after Jose pleaded guilty, Kim admitted to the payments in a deposition.
The money, however, didn't go to frame her husband. She basically accuses Wilson of extorting her.
She didn't know Wilson before he came to her with the audiotapes, when he threatened to carry out Jose's plan if she didn't pay him the 20 grand. "That's what he said Jose agreed to pay him," she said. So she paid him to make sure it didn't happen -- and to send Jose to jail.
Kleinman, her lawyer, won't say whether he knew of the payments. But he defends Kim nonetheless.
"What if I came to you and said, 'There's somebody out there who's going to send you to prison, ruin your life,'" he says. "And I was able to convince you that this was real, and I played you tape recordings for this, and I said to you, 'For $20,000, I will make sure this doesn't happen.' It's not that much money -- for your life, for your freedom, for your child."
It's an argument Kleinman might have to make in a witness box. Jose recently filed suit against his ex-wife, Kleinman, and McDonald Hopkins, alleging that Kim conspired to see her husband "deported at all costs," and that the lawyers abused the legal process in helping her.
Kleinman scoffs at the allegations. "Number one, it's an insane theory," he says. "Number two, there's no evidence to support that theory."
In criminal court, Moran filed motions to have Jose's plea thrown out. She says prosecutors withheld evidence -- namely the claims by Wilson that he was paid to entrap Jose and the admission by Kim that she paid Wilson. "We never have the smoking gun," she says. "Now we have the smoking gun."
Prosecutor Oebker says Jose simply suffers from buyer's remorse. He points to Jose's statements to police after his arrest, in which, according to detectives, he admitted wanting to see the plot through. And he points to a letter Jose wrote for his deportation hearing, in which he apologizes for committing the crimes.
"I have never seen any indication that he abandoned his efforts to have drugs planted on his wife," the prosecutor says. "If that's what his theory is . . . that's what people go to trial on. He should have gone to trial."
Michalosky, meanwhile, is left staring at a case file he started more than two years ago -- "one of those ass-aches you're sorry you ever got in the first place," as he describes it. Both Wilson and Kim have said the detective knew all along that the informant was being paid handsomely.
But Michalosky, who's since been promoted to lieutenant, says he didn't know about the money. If he did, he never would have used Wilson. He now calls the informant a "dirty fuck" who's just out to make some money. "He had an opportunity to make a buck," Michalosky says, his face droopy and tired, as if just thinking about Wilson is exhausting him. "Jose Lisboa's got deep pockets.
"His credibility has been in question a number of times and should be in question this time," Michalosky goes on. Besides, he heard the intent in Jose's voice, met face to face with a man committed to framing his wife. He's having a hard time believing it was all orchestrated by Kim and his informant.
"That would be a pretty elaborate conspiracy to put together," he says, then adds, "Nothing's impossible."
Scene contacted Wilson several times. When he finally answers, his words are sparse and cryptic.
"I only know what I did. I can't say who's right or wrong in this thing. That's not for me to decide."