The Calvo Case

A recently released report suggests that investigators are trying to implicate Denise Calvo in the murder of her husband

On September 18 of last year, prominent businessman José Calvo was shot to death as he, his wife, and one-year-old son sat in a Mercedes-Benz in the driveway of their Coconut Grove home. A suspect has been arrested, but the murder case is far from resolved.

Initially the crime appeared to be a straightforward but deadly hold-up by a thug attempting to steal the 48-year-old former auto dealer's Rolex watch, valued at $75,000. Since then, however, very little has been straightforward.

José Calvo's image as a wealthy philanthropist who had donated large sums to the Coral Gables Community Foundation faded upon news that, despite the expensive watch and the Mercedes, he was broke, in debt, and had filed for bankruptcy earlier. Then detectives made the startling discovery that Calvo's wife Denise was linked to the alleged murderer, 32-year-old Anthony Craig Lee: She had purchased crack cocaine from Lee's mother, and possibly from Lee himself. Moreover, New Times revealed that Miami police in April 2001 busted Denise for crack possession during an undercover operation at a Grove condo ("The Denise Calvo Mystery," October 2, 2003). She was never prosecuted because the arresting officers twice failed to appear for court hearings.

The murder of José Calvo has thrust his wife Denise 
into the glare of the police spotlight
Courtesy of WPLG-TV (bottom)
The murder of José Calvo has thrust his wife Denise into the glare of the police spotlight

Now the 40-year-old advertising executive has morphed from devastated widow to reclusive potential accomplice who is no longer cooperating with police. "We haven't named her a suspect, but we haven't ruled her out in that regard," says Miami Police Department spokesman Delrish Moss. "There are a lot of questions we have that only Denise Calvo can answer. And Denise Calvo at this point, through her attorney, has refused to cooperate any further. As a former homicide detective, and working in law enforcement as many years as I have, I find that unusual. Usually family members are chomping at the bit to help us with every little or large thing they can so that we can move forward and resolve the case. That's what family members normally do for people they love."

But what could Denise have gained from her husband's death? She already shared ownership of the $830,000 Calvo residence with José's mother. Denise stood to receive only part of a $1.5 million life-insurance policy José took out in 2002, which also named as beneficiaries José's parents and his two children. Nonetheless intense media coverage of the crime has unleashed some lurid theories -- that Denise desperately set up the robbery to pay off a drug debt, or that she and Lee had become lovers and crazily decided to eliminate José.

Denise Caligiuri Calvo's unexplained reticence is among the subjects addressed in investigative records that have recently become public. The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office began releasing the documents two weeks ago as part of a standard procedure in criminal prosecutions. The process is known by its legal term, "discovery." Ed Griffith, spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, explains: "Discovery materials are required to be provided to the defense to prepare their case for trial. Statements of witnesses are an important part of any case, and police reports are statements of witnesses."

The reports entered into the court record thus far represent but a fraction of the information gathered by Miami police detectives and Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agents assisting in the murder investigation. Only FDLE reports have been made public; the sole MPD document released was the arrest report Miami officers filed after Anthony Lee was caught in Orangeburg, South Carolina, in November and charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery.

Most of the investigative reports chronicle efforts to locate Lee and the individuals who helped him flee after the murder. Police chased down tips, traced cell phones, and questioned friends and relatives of Lee as the hunt advanced from his mother Verneka's house in Coconut Grove to a South Dixie Highway motel to a South Beach apartment building and then northward to West Palm Beach, Orlando, Savannah, and finally South Carolina.

One of the FDLE reports reveals that Denise Calvo stopped cooperating with authorities about a week after the murder, despite claims to the contrary by her Miami attorneys, Michael J. Rosen and Joseph Rosenbaum. On October 1 the attorneys faxed a statement to local news media stating: "Denise has fully cooperated with the police and State Attorney's Office in this investigation. She will continue to do so in order to bring to justice the person responsible for her husband's death."

Rosenbaum now acknowledges that Denise is no longer speaking with detectives, but he blames the detectives themselves. "The police don't want to cooperate with her," he contends. Denise provided a sworn statement following the murder, Rosenbaum notes, but the police have refused to give him a transcript of her remarks. "All I asked [the police] was, 'Before she comes in and talks to you again, can I have a copy of it to see what was asked and the answers?' They said, 'No, you can't have it. It's an open, pending investigation.' Well, I don't play games, so I said, 'You know something? If that's your attitude, fuck off.'"

Three of the FDLE reports contain information about Denise. One discloses that on September 1, seventeen days before the murder, she and Lee dialed each other's cell phones twice. "It does not appear that either party spoke with each other, as it appears both phones went to voice mail," the report states. Another report contains a list of items seized during a September 26 search of the Calvo residence at 3901 Crawford Ave. in Coconut Grove.

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