Monday, March 23, 2015
Dead man driving?
"We are aware of no credible evidence that Jose Lantigua is alive," stated attorney Joshua Woolsey.
Jose Lantigua, 62, flew to Caracas Venezuela for a vacation in March 2013 and he reportedly died on April 17 2013 of an apparent heart attack. It was then reported that his body was cremated and in May 2013, his popular Circle K Furniture store in Jacksonville FL was closed amid money troubles and a growing scandal. The Cuban born Lantigua had previously worked as an executive at Fidelity Financial Information Services and retired from the position of executive vice president of enterprise banking by around 2005.
He continued to keep busy and had a hand in setting up more than a dozen corporations according to state records. One of those businesses, Caregnostic Services was created in 2005 with partner Brian Klepper but Lantigua had already left that company by 2008 when he purchased the Circle K Furniture store. Klepper had described Lantigua as a nice, straight forward guy but added that he was surprised to hear that Lantigua had been reported dead and even more surprised that he was found alive.
Circle K Furniture store had been founded by Louis Kittrell in 1982 and by 2008, the Kittrell's were looking to get out the furniture business. The store was located in a feed and grain store that they had operated and it outgrew that business. Lantigua purchased the original store that was housed in a barn-like building and quickly opened a second location. He had talked about opening a third store but that had not occurred while he was still alive. He had been reportedly looking to purchase a business such as this for about two years and he purchased the land, two buildings and all of the inventory for 10 percent down and the rest funded by a small business loan. He had managed to get the business before the credit crisis had really set in and he would have had a difficult time getting the loan with no collateral.
The legal battles involving Lantigua began very quickly after his death was reported. His death left his two furniture stores about $8 million of dollars in debt and he had about $9 million dollars in life insurance policies through seven different policies. The courts have been trying to sort out the jumble of loans, mortgages and life insurance policies that had been promised as collateral for several years.
Lantigua owed American Enterprise Bank $2 million dollars, MrWink2 loans $1.7 million dollars, Synovus Bank $1.9 million dollars, Florida Capital Bank $1.4 million dollars, tens of thousands of dollars to furniture suppliers and even a $72 dollars for pest control. Everything hit the fan in September of 2013 when American Enterprise Bank of Florida put in a claim on the $2.5 million dollar policy that Lantigua had with the Hartford insurance company. His will had designated that this policy be used to pay for the $2 million dollar loan they had given him. They were not the first to put in a claim for payment on that policy. MrWink2 loans had put in a claim on that same policy in August of 2013 claiming that Lantigua had entered into multiple contracts with the company and used that policy for $1.7 million loaned to him.
The Hartford wasn't even going to try and decide which company would be the beneficiary of the policy because they stated that they did not believe that Lantigua was dead. In November 2013, Hartford Life and Annuity Life Insurance Company had refused to pay out it's $2.5 million dollar policy because it had proof that Lantigua was alive and American General Life Insurance had refused to pay out it's $2 million dollar policy for a similar reason. American sued both MrWink2 and Lantigua's son Joseph Lantigua on Nov 5th in federal court claiming that they had filed a false claim for the insurance money.
American stated in their lawsuit that physician who had signed the death certificate had never received Lantigua's body and that at least one signature of a witness to the certificate was forged. They also stated that there were no records of compliance to the numerous Venezuelan laws regards handling a body, no autopsy had been performed, there was no record of a permit to transport the body for cremation and no record of any funeral home near where Lantigua died handling the transport or preparation of his body. American also stated in their lawsuit that Lantigua had not been cremated until at least four days after he died but there had been no preparation of the body to prevent decomposition either. They also questioned why his body would have been cremated by a crematory over 250 miles from where he died when there were ones much closer. They also stated that the believed that the documents from the cremation had been falsified and that Lantigua's body had never been cremated.
Attorney Joshua Woolsey fired back in court stating that they believed that Lantigua was in fact dead and filed the proper paperwork to prove that. They denied that Lantigua had faked his own death in order to gain the insurance payouts and pay off the millions in debt there was. In Feb 2014, Woolsey was in court arguing that the paperwork that Venezuela had used to void the death certificate was actually forged and Lantigua was actually dead. In May 2014, the judge had made his ruling and stated that the papers had been forged but he made not attempt at deciding who had forged them.
The arrest warrant for Lantigua that had been taken out last year had been dropped after problems emerged with some of their paperwork but a new one had been issued this past week. Lantigua was charged with insurance fraud and schemes to defraud and he was picked up in Buncombe County NC on March 21 2015 during a routine traffic stop. His wife was with him in the car and was released since there had been no warrant for her arrest. The police had not applied for one for her since they did not know if she knew her husband was alive. She was arrested in Florida when she returned that evening since there was now proof she did know that he was not dead.
Joshua Woolsey stated that he and his law firm have withdrawn from the case on March 21 2015. He expressed shock that they had bee defrauded and had been relying on information that lantigua was dead all this time. Maybe he could offer some advice to the fleet of lawyers who are attempting to defend the actions of Heather Mack and Tommy Schaefer. Woolsey was not the first lawyer to have his client try and bald-face lie to them.
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Update March 25 2015:
Jose and his wife Daphne Simpson, 57, have been held in jail and are facing seven counts of insurance fraud, each of which has a 30 year sentence. Jose had been arrested while wearing a brown toupee and had dyed his beard and held by the North Carolina police while Daphne was not arrested until she arrived back in Florida. In 2012 the couple seemed to be living the life of successful business owners.
Jose had emigrated from Cuban when he was very young and he boasted of a heroic military career, having several college degrees, owned a beachfront condo in Florida and a new home in Sapphire North Carolina. Some of the people who knew Jose closely though state that by 2012 he was making some very odd business decisions such as ordering a ton of new furniture for his many homes and paying for it with Circle K funds.
He also chose to fire the bookkeeper that he had for years and replaced that person with a relative of his. Jose also had a panic room with steel doors built into the new home in NC and police state that he and his wife began planning his fake death. Jose had long stated that he had been in the US Army for 20 years before retiring as a senior officer and added that he had been awarded the silver star during his service. The Army has not responded yet as to whether his claims are true.
Jose had claimed to have received a degree in computer science in 1989 from Florida International University which has been confirmed. He also claimed to have gotten degrees in mathematics, management, physics and an aerospace engineering from Pepperdine University. Northwestern University states that they have no record of his attending, University of Florida stated that he had attended classes there but did not receive a degree and Pepperdine has not yet responded with a statement.
It was in 2012 that Jose, with his tearful wife by his side, announced that he was very ill and needed to go to Venezuela for an experimental treatment that was not available in the US. Their former bookkeeper, Kathleen Leis had noticed that the company had a growing debt and continued to purchase furniture with store funds for their family. She was worried at the time but trusted Jose with his explanations for it. She was then replaced by Jose's sister in law and was told that she was needed on the floor selling because the sister in law was not doing it well. Jose sold the condo on Jacksonville beach for $600,000 and he headed off for his treatments outside of the country.
It was in April that he supposedly died and was cremated and by may, the company had closed and filed for bankruptcy. Jose and his wife had been building a new home on a narrow road on Hogback Mountain in NC which is described as a sparsely populated vacation spot near Asheville NC. The contractor there had wondered why someone would need a concrete panic room in the basement of the home but he constructed it anyways.
Jose may have thought that he had planned his own death well but he had not done all that well. His downfall is reportedly the fake documents he had acquired to return to the US. He was arrested near the Hogback Mountain home and was carrying his fake passport on him. Unfortunately, the name that he was using on the passport belonged to a black man and the social security number that he used belonged to a woman who had been born in 1917. The rest of the information on the passport was false except for the contact information. He listed his "widow" Daphne and the correct North Carolina address on it so when his passport information raised eyebrows after being entered into the system, state department officials used facial recognition software to identify him and knew where to find him.
Richard Marquez and his employees of Diligence International agency were trying to verify the death of Jose not very long after his reported death. They knew that the doubt the insurance companies had was probably true after they arrived in the small town that Jose supposedly died in. They had gone to interview the doctor who had signed the death certificate and when they arrived they found that no one had heard of the death. it was a very small village and the lodge he supposed had lived in had existed but it hadn't operated in years. No one there had known Jose or had even heard about his death there.
The investigators then drove past dozens of funeral homes with crematories to arrive at the one who had supposedly handled Jose's body after his death from........ mad cow disease. I have to give him a few points for creativity on that one because it wouldn't be a disease I would pick to be dying from. It was after they interviewed the crematorium operators that Marquez states that they knew that Jose had not died as was claimed.
Jose was arrested on March 21st on the federal charges of passport fraud and identity theft and the additional federal charges of insurance fraud were added later. He will be facing federal charges for money laundering as well it seems and those could carry the heaviest penalties and jail time. So far it does not look as though his son or daughter will face any charges since it seems that they did honestly think that their father had died in 2013.
Update March 28 2015:
Lantigua appeared before a federal judge in North Carolina on March 27 and he did not speak to the judge at that time. His lawyer did waive the preliminary hearing and detention hearing and he will be held in the custody of federal agents while the case is continued. It has now been reported that they believe that Lantigua could have been living in the home in Sapphire NC as far back as April 2013 when he allegedly died in Venezuela. A construction worked who did work on the home has stated that a man fitting Lantigua's description had been seen around the house as far back as that date. It is doubtful he will be able to make bond when there is one set for him because the court will insist on knowing that the money had not been obtained fraudulently.
His wife Daphne had been arrested when she returned to her home in Ponte Vedra Fl that night. She is facing 8 counts of insurance fraud while he is facing 9 first degree felony fraud charges. Daphne appeared before a judge in Florida on March 24th and was appointed a public defender because all of her finances and income is being held. She and her lawyer will have to prove that it has not been obtained fraudulently as well. They both face charges in the state of Florida for filing false insurance claims. Daphne had received several smaller payouts for insurance since Lantigua's death which may also be subject to charges in the future. She is due in court again on April 15th.
It has now been reported that Lantigua's downfall was the application he made for a "new" passport in November of 2014. In September 2014 he had received a North Carolina driver's license and birth certificate using the name of a former New York postal worker. He then used this ID to apply for a new passport but unfortunately for him, the postal worker had applied in 1999 for a passport himself. The original passport showed the picture of a black man and the new one that lantigua was trying to get showed a white man. The social security numbers also did not match but Lantigua had been kind enough to list his "widow" Daphne and the address of the house in NC correctly on the application.
Federal investigators watched the house for several weeks before moving to arrest Lantigua while driving his Jeep Wrangler. They report that he was doing a poor job of disguising himself with the toupee and bad beard dye job. Lantigua evidently signed a document waiving his Miranda Rights and stated then that it had been a long time since he had used his correct name. While he may have planned this grand scheme with daphne he evidently screwed up badly in carrying it out. There has been no report yet as to when or how he returned to the US from South America or if he had ever really left the US.
Update April 23 2015:
Lantigua pleaded not guilty to the federal charges of lying to a federal agent, stealing another man's identity, faking his own death and being a fugitive for 16 months on April 13 2015. His wife Daphne is facing one federal charge of lying to a federal agent but she does not have a court date yet for that charge. The federal agents believe that Lantigua went to Venezuela to fake his own death and after returning from there, he has been hiding out at the home in North Carolina. He was waiting for the wife who knew he was still alive to claim the $ 9 million in insurance money they expected his policies to pay out. He has also been served with eight charges in Florida for insurance fraud and his next court date is set for April 27th.