The couple sat in the courtroom, separated by an oak gate and a U.S. marshal. The jail-issued shirt on Lesean Roberts seemed a size too small, black glasses making him look more like a gym teacher than a drug dealer.
Tiffany Cleveland, his wife in sickness and in health, was seated behind him, sandwiched between Lesean's relatives. They were waiting for U.S. Judge Donald Nugent, whose tardiness on this May morning was only delaying the inevitable. The 10 a.m. hearing was early enough for Tiffany to see her husband before she started her day as an East Cleveland cop.
As in a pro-wrestling match that had been fixed, Lesean's loved ones already knew the outcome. Life in prison. They'd been preparing ever since a jury returned a verdict a few months back: guilty of peddling crack. This hearing was just a formality.
It was only a year into their marriage when Westlake police and the DEA put a wrinkle in Lesean and Tiffany's new life together. They made a strange couple. He was a felon who'd done time for drug and assault charges. She was a single mother and detective, who arrested people like Lesean to put food on the table.
The two met at a salon/barbershop a little more than two years ago. It started with conversation, evolved into friendship. He seemed so normal that she never considered he might be a man with a past. Besides, she was doing some concealing of her own.
"In my dating life, I never tell them what I do," Tiffany says of the guys, who can get freaky when they discover she's a cop. "If I do, they'll be like, 'Handcuff me; beat me with a baton.'"
It wasn't love at first sight. Tiffany was far too gruff for that. "It wasn't no 'Fuck the world, now it's just you and me' type shit," she says. But they grew on each other. Lesean was nice and sweet, and a regular at church. In fact, he dragged her with.
The two married months later, when Lesean arranged a spontaneous trip for Tiffany's birthday.
Despite the glaring differences in background, they had much in common. Lesean had four kids from a previous relationship. Tiffany had a nine-year-old son from a past relationship too. Already in their late 30s, they shared the same muted expectations of matrimony: Keep the sentimental bullshit to a minimum. Just have fun. They fit each other like a 10-year-old T-shirt, more comfortable than anything you could ever buy.
Lesean found a job making van deliveries -- at least that's what he told Tiffany. She was putting in 12-hour days as a homicide detective in a suburb where crime never sleeps. "I'm not no average housewife material," she says. "I'm not the bitch who's going to be in the house scrambling eggs."
Then the call came last July. It was Lesean. I'm in jail.
Confusion struck. Jail for what? DUI?
He was being charged with trafficking crack.
Confusion was quickly replaced by anger. How could she not have known? She'd been a detective for more than 15 years, but she'd never noticed any strange behavior, any mysterious infusions of cash. She started tearing up the house. Where were the pots and scales? She found nothing. If he was cooking crack, Tiffany says, it wasn't at home.
Across town, Westlake police had a better understanding of her husband. Last July, Michael Tucker was caught delivering crack to a Westlake man.
Tucker was eager to cut a deal. His supplier was married to an East Cleveland detective, he told the investigators. Set him up, they replied.
So Tucker called Lesean. Told him he needed another nine ounces. They made plans to meet at the usual drop-off: the Home Depot in Euclid.
When Lesean arrived the night of July 28, Tucker was nowhere in sight. He got out of his car and walked toward the store, where he was swarmed by police. On the floorboard of his car were seven ounces in a plastic bag.
His past convictions, coupled with the federal laws for crack dealers, meant that he'd be going away for life. It would mark only the second time in Nugent's career that he rendered the ultimate sentence for someone who hadn't been convicted of murder.
"He's wrong for what he did, but they went overboard," says Lesean's mother, who asked not to be named. Despite her best intentions, Lesean gravitated toward easy money and got mixed up in the drug game after doing a stint in the Navy, she says. "Sean got caught up like a lot of other black males did. They didn't anticipate the consequences."
On the day after her husband's sentencing, Tiffany is back at work on the 3-11 shift. She's no longer a detective. The department thought it best to move her to patrol because of all the negative publicity, she says.
She stands outside the police garage, taking drags from a cigarette, as random folks from the neighborhood wave hello. Besides losing Lesean, she's lost the public trust of those who wonder how a detective could not know her husband was a coke dealer.
"Do you know where your spouse is right now?" she asks defensively.
In her eyes, having a husband who sold drugs behind her back is not much different from having one who says he's working late, while secretly having an affair. She trusted Lesean. She still trusts Lesean. To her, he was a good guy who just fucked things up.
"I lost my best friend more than a husband," she says, before flicking away her cigarette and heading back into the garage.
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