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Legal expert: Fake death case full of 'ridiculousness'

Plea deal in works for wife of man accused of faking death

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The wife of a Jacksonville businessman accused of faking his own death was released from jail Wednesday on an unsecured bond after her attorney told a federal judge that a plea agreement was in the works.

Daphne Simpson had been in jail since her arrest in March 2015.

Records said she helped her husband, Jose Lantigua, fake his own death in early 2013, saying he died of complications from mad cow disease.

Simpson will be back in federal court Aug. 3.

Lantigua will also likely be in federal court in Duval County, but attorney Randy Reep, who isn't connected with the case, said that won’t happen until the U.S. Attorney’s Office has its case fully built.

In North Carolina, Lantigua pleaded guilty to federal identity theft and passport fraud charges, with the potential for up to 12 years in prison. But his attorney there told a judge that he was facing closely related but potentially more serious charges in Florida.

Lantigua remains in jail in Florida, awaiting sentencing on his North Carolina charges.

Documents show Lantigua and Simpson collected more than $800,000 in insurance money from faking his death. The documents also say Lantigua convinced Simpson he needed to fake his death because he was a former team leader in the government special operations unit and a drug cartel was after him.

“It’s ridiculousness on top of more ridiculousness,” Reep said. “The reality is they committed a very significant amount of fraud for a very significant amount of money.”

Reep said that Simpson’s impending plea agreement and her charge don’t do anything to help Lantigua’s case.

“His case wasn’t good before. There’s two people in a lifeboat that is sinking,” Reep said.

Simpson's charges lay out the process Simpson and Lantigua used to fake his death and collect insurance money, including getting his fake death certificate from Venezuela.

“(It) probably does nothing to help him, but I don’t think there was ever leniency coming his way anyway,” Reep said. “This was such an elaborate (issue), you had immigration issues, insurance fraud, criminality of other natures. There is no sympathy to him, so this is deadly to him, but it wasn’t necessary.”

For her part, Simpson faces up to five years in prison on her Florida charges, with fines totaling nearly $2 million. Her attorney, Lee Hutton, said that right now, she’s just happy to be out of jail as she awaits a resolution on the case.

“There’s a lot that I have to say,” Hutton said, “but I really think it’s best said in the courtroom right now.”