Jose Lantigua, the Jacksonville businessman once reported dead in South America, is scheduled to face a federal judge Tuesday to answer fraud charges over a multimillion-dollar insurance scam.
Lantigua, the former owner of Circle K Furniture, was charged last week with planning his 2013 disappearance and a story that he was dying from mad cow disease.
Lantigua and his wife, Daphne Simpson, circulated that story before Lantigua flew to Caracas, Venezuela to get a fake death certificate and other paperwork that would be used to explain him vanishing, the charges said.
The papers said Lantigua had convinced Simpson he was once a team leader for a fictional government special operations team, and that a drug cartel from the team’s past wanted to kill him.
Simpson was told both of their families were in danger, the papers said.
Simpson pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud, although a prosecutor told a judge she had been “hoodwinked” by Lantigua.
She had also traveled to Venezuela after her husband’s supposed death to get paperwork from the U.S. embassy that’s needed when a citizen dies overseas, and gave him cash while she was there.
Over a span of years, Lantigua had taken out life insurance policies worth millions of dollars on himself, and Simpson filed claims with those companies, a string of whom cried fraud after his disappearance.
Those companies were still fighting the claims in state and federal court in March 2015, when federal agents stopped a Jeep near Asheville, N.C. and found Lantigua and Simpson inside.
Lantigua, who had been living under a fak name in a remote mountain town, was arrested on the spot on charges of passport fraud and identity theft.
He pleaded guilty to those charges last year but hasn’t been sentenced yet, and in January he was moved to the Baker County Jail while prosecutors worked on charges over the fake death.
Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263