JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One day after Jose Lantigua was formally charged with stealing another man's identity and lying to a federal agent, News4Jax has learned that the Jacksonville businessman accused of faking his death had been a fugitive for 16 months.
The January 2014 arrest warrant charging Lantigua with eight counts of insurance fraud, obtained Thursday, is the first bit of confirmation that Lantigua was actually ever in Venezuela, where his wife claimed he died. The document says he was living in Juan Greigo, an island off the coast, while trying to obtain a false identity.
The warrant specifies that once arrested, Lantigua should be held on $5.5 million bond.
The investigator said that he met with Calles Rivas, the Venezuelan doctor who signed Lantigua's falsified death certificate, admitted he was "paid a monetary sum to sign the document without observing a body or confirming the death."
The investigator also met with a Orlando Reina, a crematorium owner who said he was paid 3,000 Bolivars -- about $450 -- to sign cremation documents, but said he never completed a cremation. Reina said that when the cremation certificate was completed, he would receive 10,000 Bolivars -- about $1,500 -- from Lantigua's wife, Daphne Sylvia Simpson.
The warrant named Thonny Bayeh an accomplice of Lantigua, adding that Bayeh admitted to the scheme and told investigators he paid for the documents as directed by Lantigua.
At the end of the interview, Bayea, "Offered a bribe to the investigators to keep quiet and stated that once Lantigua received the life insurance benefits, he would pay them as well."
According to court records, Lantiqua had insured his life for $9 million.
After leaving Venezuela, authorities say Lantigua was living at a house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Federal agents took him into outside custody a gun shop in Brevard, North Carolina, on March 21.
Relief: That's the word Ernest Wills used to describe his reaction to finding out that the man who is said to have stolen his identity has formally been charged in North Carolina.
Wills lives in New York and said that he has no idea why he was a target in this crime. News4Jax has also learned that Lantigua will be back in federal court in Asheville, North Carolina next week.
His court hearing will be Monday morning in Asheville for arraignment. Last month, his attorney waived his preliminary hearing and chose not to enter a plea at that hearing. This time, he is likely to have to enter one.
Wills said one of the main things he wants to know is how easily his identity was stolen
"I have had to put a lot of things in place to protect my identity. This is costing me money," said Wills.
Wills said this has been a frustrating situation for him. He has put new protections in place to make sure that something like this doesn't happen to him again. When told that investigators said that Lantigua was living under his name in a secret room in this mountain home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Wills couldn't believe how far this went.
An identity theft expert told News4Jax that something like this case, as detailed as the theft was, can happen very easily, from something as simple as using an unsecured Internet connection.
"The more information I hear about the case, the more disturbed I get. I don't know the depths this individual went to get my identity," Will said.
Wills said he will keep a close eye on the case, hoping Lantigua and his wife both face stiff penalties when the court process is finished.
"I don't think they will be as lenient as they are here in New York," Wills said. "I don't know about his representation, what type of a lawyer he has. If he has a great lawyer, he could get a little more leniency."
Wills said that he has lost his wallet years ago, but it was returned quickly and he canceled everything inside it. He now hopes as the case plays out, he will learn how Lantigua was able to get his information.
"How easily, or how difficult is what happened," said Wills. "I don't recall being in that part of Florida. I don't know where he got this information from. I don't know."
Lantigua remains in federal custody awaiting an arraignment Monday on charges of passport fraud and aggravated identity theft. Since his arrest in North Carolina, Lantigua has also been served with Florida charges: eight counts of insurance fraud.