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Feds seek $2.8 million from businessman who faked death

Jose Lantigua's wife tried to collect millions in insurance claims

Booking photo of Jose Lantigua
Booking photo of Jose Lantigua

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The U.S. attorney has filed a motion seeking $2.8 million from former Jacksonville business owner Jose Lantigua, money that the government says were the proceeds of his participation from a conspiracy. Most of the money was from a $2.4 million life insurance policy.

Lantigua pleaded guilty in September to federal charges of bank fraud and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The former owner of Circle K furniture stores in Jacksonville made his plea in federal court in Jacksonville rather than going forward with a trial.

When asked directly by the judge if the facts read by prosecutors -- that he faked his own death and fraudulently submitted life-insurance paperwork for financial gain -- were true, Lantigua answered, "Yes."

His guilty plea came just weeks after Lantigua's wife, Daphne Simpson, pleaded guilty to related charges.

No sentencing date was set, but Lantigua could face up to 30 years in prison on the bank fraud conviction and 20 years on the conspiracy conviction. Lantigua also awaits sentencing on two charges in North Carolina, which could make his maximum sentence greater than 50 years.

According to authorities, Lantigua used insurance policies as collateral to secure two $1 million bank loans.

Lantigua pleaded guilty in October to federal passport fraud and identity theft charges, which carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison. He has not been sentenced yet.

Prosecutors and Lantigua’s attorney are waiting for his case in North Carolina to be transferred to Duval County so he can be sentenced on all charges at once.

Unraveling a mystery

Investigators said Lantigua faked his death in South America in 2013 so his wife could collect over $5 million.

Prosecutors laid out some of the facts of the case, including 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.

"I don't think you are going to see anybody offering a whole lot of leniency," Reep said. "This is a long-term, multi-family member enterprise to defraud people."

Lantigua was arrested near his wife's home in North Carolina last year after insurance investigators cracked the case by talking with a doctor in Venezuela who admitted signing the fake death certificate.

The wife's house was being built with funds from his insurance settlement. 

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.