The Calvo Case
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.
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.
The third report centered on Denise is startling. It is an 1100-word narrative account of an interview conducted by FDLE Special Agent Supervisor John Coffey and Special Agent Ed Burke this past October. The interview took place at the South Miami offices of Community Newspapers, publisher of fourteen local papers that circulate from Homestead to Aventura. The interview subjects were brothers Grant and Michael Miller, president and vice president of the company, respectively. (Grant oversees business operations while Michael acts as editor-in-chief.) Why question the Millers? Because Denise Calvo has been selling advertising for them on a full-time or part-time basis since the mid-Eighties.
The Millers say they were surprised to learn early in the interview that Coffey was quite familiar with Denise's family. Coffey told them he was among the law-enforcement agents who in 1986 arrested Denise's father, Michael Angelo Caligiuri, along with several other members of a drug-distribution ring. Federal prosecutors claimed the Brooklyn native was a member of New York's Gambino organized-crime family and part of a syndicate that sold cocaine and most of the counterfeit Quaaludes on the underground market in the Eighties.
Caligiuri was convicted in Miami federal court in 1988 and sentenced to twelve years for racketeering and cocaine possession with intent to distribute. Rather than send him immediately to prison, Judge Kenneth Ryskamp granted him a few days' freedom to celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary. Caligiuri fled. Nine years later authorities finally captured him in Virginia. The Millers believe agents were tracking Denise and that she may have unwittingly revealed her father's location by visiting him at one of his hideouts.
"John Coffey is the person who arrested her father," Grant Miller says. "Of all the FDLE agents, how is that happening? Isn't that a little bizarre?"
When the Millers recently read the FDLE report representing their remarks, they were stunned. And angered. Statements they did not make were attributed to them, they allege. Things they did say were omitted. "It was riddled with errors, the whole thing," Michael Miller complains. "I realized these guys are totally incompetent as note-takers. If they were reporters, they'd be fired!"
Miller speculates that the report may be the work of a "bitter" FDLE agent. "My belief is that [Coffey] is on a hunt," he says. "He got her father, who then screwed the justice system by taking off."
Adds Grant Miller: "So he's after her now."
It's understandable that the Millers might wonder whether agents Coffey and Burke were pursuing some kind of vendetta, for the report reads like an indictment of Denise Calvo's character, a concerted effort to gather and disseminate as much dirt as possible.
The FDLE agents' report also ascribes to the Millers two explosive allegations: that Denise pressured a neighbor to deny he saw the killer drive by the Calvo residence before the shooting, and that Denise actually admitted to Michael Miller she participated in her husband's murder. The Millers assert they never made such allegations. Coffey and Burke would not comment.
Following is the entire FDLE report drawn from Coffey and Burke's hour-long interview of the Miller brothers. The text is interspersed with responses New Times compiled last week. Grant Miller declined to comment on most of the report, dismissing it as hearsay. His brother Michael, interviewed separately, was more forthcoming. The verbatim FDLE text appears in italics.
FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT INVESTIGATIVE REPORT
This investigative report pertains to the ongoing investigation related to the robbery / homicide of José Calvo.
On October 17, 2003 at approximately 10:30 AM S/A Ed Burke and SAS John Coffey met with the owners of the Miami Community Newspapers at their office. The office is located at 6792 SW 62 Ave., Miami, Florida. The owners are Grant Miller and Michael Miller.
The following are notes from the conversation:
Denise Calvo worked for Grant Miller and Michael Miller since she was 17 years old. She worked collecting advertising from various businesses to run in the community newspaper. At first she worked directly for the paper and after some years she began doing some advertising business on her own and some for the paper.
Grant Miller: "If you really read it closely, you go, seventeen? She worked here at seventeen? Why would we say that? She wasn't here at seventeen."
Michael Miller: "She's been associated with us for seventeen years. She was a senior in college when she started here. Or maybe she had just graduated."
Denise Calvo finally opened her own business called "Supreme Advertising." She still did some work with the paper as well. Her business was in Coral Gables. The business got broken into a few years ago. Some computer equipment was stolen. The person(s) who broke in also urinated in some files. They think a police report was made on the incident.
The Millers went on to provide background information from their knowledge and point of view. Some of the information they related to S/A Burke and SAS Coffey pertained to possible drug use by Denise Calvo. It also pertained to rumors they had heard related to her associations with various people.
Michael Miller: "Denise was highly productive here for the years when she worked. She was extremely productive. She has, I think, a small ad agency. She physically left the place here about five years ago and opened up her own agency and an office. Then I think after she closed that, she operated out of her house. And she would go out and get business. And we had a good relationship with her and her clients. And I know for a long time she did cable [advertising]. I went to her house once for twenty minutes about two years ago and once about twelve or fifteen years ago. I had dinner with her once. And occasional lunches. I never socialized with her or with José. And that's just the way it was."
They said that Denise Calvo had many relationships with married men who were in the car sales business and these were people she got advertising from.
She also had many other relationships. One of the people Denise Calvo had a relationship with is Bill Sidel [sic].
Grant Miller: "Bill Seidle? He's 80! We were friends with [car dealer] Bill Seidle. These are things that they [Coffey and Burke] said."
Michael Miller: "That stuff about Bill Seidle -- I can't believe they put that in the same paragraph! Most of her business was from car dealers. They [Coffey and Burke] said, 'Well, what kind of car dealers bought ads?' So we started naming [them] -- which is very public information -- including Bill Seidle, who bought ads for many many years. So they put it in the same paragraph. I can't believe they started it by saying 'sexual affairs' and then moved on to saying she had a relationship with Bill. I have no reason to believe that ever occurred."
She was dating a former Metro police officer by the name of Larry Tanaka for some time in the past. That relationship ended badly Denise Calvo calling his house and making threats.
Michael Miller: "She was dating [him]. He was another car dealer. Everybody knew that." Tanaka did not respond to a request for comment.
Grant Miller and Michael Miller said that Denise Calvo had drug problems for many years. They feel that she was using cocaine. She was off the drugs for quite a while. About 5 years ago she started back using them. She was arrested in 2001.
One of the advertising accounts with whom she had a personal relationship was a person from the Miami-Dade County School Board, John Maffie [sic]. They said that she was taking advertisements from him for the paper. The school board was supposed to pay the paper for the ads. When the bills were not paid the paper called the school board and was told that they had paid "Supreme Advertising." When the bills were investigated they found that Denise Calvo had been adding more money to the amount owed and having the check sent to her by Maffie instead of the paper. Maffie was eventually transferred to a lower job with the school system as a result.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokesman Mayco Villafaña confirms that as an adult-education administrator John Moffi (not Maffie) wrote school-district checks to Denise, but adds: "He wasn't transferred because of this issue."
Moffi: "I'm not commenting."
The Millers say they were not the source of information about John Moffi.
José Calvo owed approximately $10,000.00 to the paper for advertising.
Michael Miller: "It was not $10,000. It was a much smaller amount. A few thousand dollars. But he was a customer for years and years and years and years and years. And even after he closed Angel Buick, he advertised some other automotive place he had. And there was some stuff that was tied up with General Motors and all that. So at the end of the day he owed us a couple thousand dollars. It was not irrelevant but pretty close to it. I mean, he spent thousands of dollars a month and was a good customer for many years. And it made Denise very happy."
General Motors also closed his car dealership because he wasn't paying his bills. They said that José Calvo owed everyone money. He had some property, which he leased from a person who is a commissioner in the Gables. He never paid his lease for that property.
Michael Miller says he had heard these things, but does not know if they are true.
José Calvo owed the Orange Bowl Committee $25,000.00
Michael Miller: "There were lots of rumors and that was certainly one of them. I don't know if it's true."
A neighbor by the name of Nelson is also a witness. They heard through a third person, a gay neighbor by the name of Leslie, that Denise Calvo had tried to get Nelson to change his story.
According to the Millers, a day or two after the murder of José Calvo, Denise Caligiuri Calvo allegedly learned that the Miami police interviewed her neighbor Nelson LNU [last name unknown]. It was further alleged by the Millers that upon learning of this Denise confronted Nelson stating, in effect, that he did not see the perpetrator driving by the Calvo residence on the day of and prior to the murder. The Millers stated that Nelson and Leslie saw the Calvos come and go from their residence on the day of the shooting. In the time between when they left and when they returned Nelson and Leslie saw Lee's vehicle driving by the residence.
The Millers say they do not know "Leslie," nor did they mention anyone by that name during the interview. In fact the brothers deny making any of the above allegations. They claim Coffey and Burke themselves made the allegations about Denise, Nelson, and "Leslie." The Millers say they merely acknowledged hearing similar rumors.
Michael Miller: "What I saw was on TV, which was a neighbor who was interviewed and also, I had heard, gave a report to the police."
Grant Miller: "Unfortunately we all watch TV. That's all hearsay. Who's Nelson Rios?"
Nelson Rios: "I did see the car that this Lee person used. I was outside in the middle of the street when it happened. But I did not witness the shooting. Everything else about changing the story, stuff like that -- that is not true. That is a complete lie. She did not do that at all. She came to my house after everything that happened. Yeah, definitely. And we spoke. But she did not say anything about changing my story at all."
Rios declines to disclose details of his conversation with Denise Calvo. "I don't want to talk about it anymore," he says. "I'm just going to stop the conversation right here. If I'm called to testify I want to make sure I have my story together. And I'm not going to add or subtract from it. I'm going to say what happened, what I saw."
He says he is not a friend of Denise and has always maintained a distance from his neighbors. "I didn't know her at all," he reports. "I know she lived down the street, that was it. Like I told the police, I keep my neighbors very far away from me. The less I know the better. If I see something going on, I call the police, but I will not get involved."
Attorney Joseph Rosenbaum: "[Denise's] conversation with Nelson was about a week after the homicide. It was about the car that Lee was in. I think he saw the car, and I think she had questioned him about the car. She was trying to figure out what happened."
They said that Denise Calvo had a very bad temper and had been involved in several problems related to road rage.
Michael Miller said that he had spoken with Denise Calvo at the wake for José Calvo. During the conversation she said, "I had to shoot him."
Michael Miller: "She said that. That's correct."
It was Michael Miller's impression that she was talking about José Calvo not Anthony Craig Lee.
Michael Miller said that Denise Calvo had told him about meeting Lee's mother years ago.
Michael Miller: "What I said was, years ago Denise had told me about a black lady she met in Coconut Grove and that she was helping this lady. I never met the lady. Denise never spoke to me after the shooting and said, 'By the way, you know the shooter's mother is' -- whatever she was doing with her. My feeling is they [Coffey and Burke] put the whole hour together, just sort of threw it together, and said, 'Is this what they said?' There are little bits of truth in there. And then they sort of built it the way they wanted to."
He said that many people think that Denise Calvo was purchasing drugs from the mother as well as Lee.
Grant Miller and Michael Miller said that they have some neighborhood men who act as unofficial security for their business. One of those men, who they said they did not want to reveal, told them some time ago that Denise Calvo had showed him a handgun that she kept in her handbag.
The Millers don't dispute this summation by the FDLE agents. More important to the murder case, however, is the weapon Denise used to shoot Anthony Lee. That gun remains shrouded in mystery. "They [detectives] have not to this point released any information on that gun for some reason," says the Miami Police Department's Delrish Moss. "They have the information. They know what type of gun it is. They know who it's registered to. They just haven't released it yet."
During the September 26 search of the Calvo residence, MPD detectives and FDLE agents confiscated a handgun -- a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson -- from a desk drawer. In Florida it is legal to keep a gun in the home; no permit or license is required. But to legally carry that gun outside -- in a purse or under the seat of a Mercedes-Benz -- a concealed-weapon permit is mandatory. Neither Denise nor José Calvo had such a permit at the time of the murder, according to the state agency that issues them. Records show that José Calvo applied for a permit in July 2003, but the application was returned because he'd failed to include his occupation, as required by law.
They said that she had been a very promiscuous person and had sex with many people, both male and female. She and José Calvo were also involved in some multiple partner relationships. They said that she was also having sex with some of the people she was obtaining drugs from in the Grove.
Grant Miller: "That's what they [Coffey and Burke] are saying. They're trying to entangle us."
They said that a man by the name of Miles Jennings in the Grove had a cousin who was "doing her."
Michael Miller: "I don't know who [Miles Jennings] is. I don't know where that comes from." Miller does note that he has in fact heard rumors of promiscuity.
Miles Jennings, Jr., 49-year-old owner of M.C. Jennings, Jr., Construction in Coconut Grove, learned his name was in the FDLE report while watching television two weeks ago.
Jennings: "My daughter and I happened to be watching the news. We were talking, having a little family moment, bonding. And I said, 'Let me watch the news,' because she was watching Charmed or something. I said, 'Let's watch the news. Let's see what's going on.' And all of a sudden -- it was just shocking. I don't know, I just thought that was in such poor taste. One of my subcontractors, he mentioned it last week. He said, 'You got free publicity!' That was crazy! He said, 'Man, who's your cousin?' I've got so many relatives. Which cousin? A man by the name of Miles Jennings, his cousin is 'doing' someone? For a lack of a better term, that is so ghetto."
They said that there were a couple of rumors they had heard that were circulating in the Grove. One was that Anthony Lee had been cared for after being shot by some ladies in the Grove area. Another rumor is that Lee was at the house to collect for drug money owed to him.
The Millers said that a person who needs to be interviewed is a neighbor Larry Burns.
Michael Miller: "There is no Larry Burns, as far as I know. I don't know a Larry Burns. Grant doesn't know a Larry Burns. I think they put together Larry Tanaka and John Burns." (John Burns is the husband of Gloria Burns, executive director of the Coral Gables Community Foundation.)
The neighbors are saying that they had seen Lee and his mother at the Calvo's house before.
They had heard that Denise Calvo was at Lee's mother's house on the day of the shooting.
The divorce file from José Calvo should be reviewed.
The Millers deny saying any of this.
Denise Calvo's first husband is John Bernard.
Grant Miller: "They talked, we listened. Who her first husband was? It was all wrong. That was what they were saying." Florida marriage records indicate that Denise's first husband was James Richard Frisch.
José Calvo gave a house to the "Coral Gables Foundation." They said that Gloria Burns of that foundation was very found [sic] of José Calvo. She and her husband, John Burns, would have a lot to say. They would know about a relationship Denise Calvo had with Patrick E Sessions and about a problem Denise Calvo and José Calvo had when José Calvo found that Denise Calvo had a person in her bedroom at their apartment.
Michael Miller: "I heard the story probably four years ago. And again I don't know that it's true. I guess there are only a couple people who know for sure."
Patrick Sessions, whose daughter Tiffany vanished in 1989 while jogging at the University of Florida, did not respond to a request for comment. Gloria Burns also did not return calls.
A copy of the notes from the interview with Grant and Michael Miller has been forwarded to Lead Investigator S/A Mullen.
Michael Miller says he provided some positive information about Denise that didn't make it into Coffey and Burke's report. For example: "She was our top salesman here for many years. Many, many years. Highly successful in whatever she did. Active in the Coconut Grove [Chamber of Commerce]. But that didn't assist them. And I just have to tell you, I think if they had evidence of a crime she was involved in, they would have already charged her."
His brother Grant concurs: "Here's the thing that's bizarre -- they got the shooter. If there's anything else why haven't they charged anybody? They want her. I mean he hasn't flipped, if he had something on her. That's the thing that's bizarre to me."
According to Michael Miller, Coffey and Burke did not ask him whether he suspected that Denise Calvo conspired with Anthony Craig Lee in the murder of her husband. Had they asked, he would have dismissed the conspiracy theory with this: "Would she do that with her son in the car? Would she even think about that? This girl is really protective. This girl, if she likes you, she'll physically defend you from an intruder. And she would not let anything happen to this kid. And to set up an arrangement -- I don't care if it was even a robbery -- it's impossible for me to fathom that she would have anything to do with that. And I feel bad for her."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.