JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One day after a former Jacksonville businessman accused of faking his own death pleaded guilty to two federal charges, his wife, Daphne Simpson, was also in federal court.
Jose Lantigua's wife appeared in front of a judge for a status hearing after a charge against her in North Carolina was transferred to Florida.
Simpson will now wait for a hearing on that charge, giving false information to law enforcement, to be formally read the charge and penalties.
Simpson pleaded guilty in Duval County last month to one federal count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
She faces a maximum of five years in prison and up to three years of supervised release. She could face fines up to $1,742,134.22.
U.S. Attorney Mark Devereaux recommended less than the maximum sentence of five years but also recommended restitution from Simpson of $871,067.11.
No sentencing date was set for her.
Tracking Lantigua down
Investigators said Lantigua faked his death in South America in 2013 so his wife could collect over $5 million.
Prosecutors said that Lantigua initially told Simpson that he had mad cow disease and only had six months to a year left to live. He then changed his story and told her a drug cartel was after him, they said.
That’s when he got a fake death certificate in Venezuela and, according to prosecutors, she submitted it at the U.S. Embassy there while he waited in the car.
A private investigator spent nearly two months trying to track Lantigua’s time in Venezuela to get to the bottom of the scheme and prove that Lantigua was alive.
Richard Marquez, who owns Diligence International Group, a group of private investigators from Texas, said the investigation was both difficult and dangerous.
"The investigation took place during a time where there was a lot of civil unrest in Venezuela," Marquez said. "Our investigators had to sleep in their cars. They had to wait until the unrest was over in some of the towns so they could visit the people that we needed to interview."
Marquez said they had a good idea of where Lantigua was hiding out in Venezuela, but never actually contacted him.
He said that many things, not just the country’s unrest and riots, complicated the process for investigators.
"There were so many twists and turns to this investigation that I could probably speak about this for four hours," Marquez said. "Just the fact, the way that it was sent out, the difficulty in the logistics, the number of people that were paid off to try to basically document the alleged death."
Court documents show that Simpson brought $15,000 to $20,000 in cash to Venezuela for Lantigua to get the documents for his death. The two took a taxi to the U.S. Embassy, and Lantigua waited outside while she got the certificate.
Investigators said that after he left Venezuela, Lantigua ended up in the Bahamas, where he met Simpson in late 2013. At that time, “by paying an individual $5,000, Lantigua made arrangement(s) to illegally enter the United States,” by taking a fishing boat to the Fort Lauderdale area.
Simpson and her attorney had no comment as they left court Wednesday.