Ditzy fake-death artist hides in plain sight

By James Quiggle
December 23, 2015

Jose Lantigua’s death was so tragic. He went to his eternal reward from a heart attack while vacationing in Venezuela.

The Jacksonville, Fla. furniture-store owner’s family stood to receive up to $9 million worth of life-insurance payouts from seven insurers.

Lantigua was cremated in Venezuela, official documents seemingly confirmed. In truth, he launched a strange and botched scheme to fake his death, collect millions worth of life-insurance money, then quietly live a life of luxury hidden away in the mountains.

The ditzy plot was doomed by his almost comic inability to disguise himself.

His wife Daphne Simpson — who was part of the plot — held a touching and bogus memorial service. Two pastors spoke. Mourners sang “Amazing Grace.” A military Honor Guard saluted him as a supposed Silver Star combat medalist.

Several life insurers paid the death claims to Simpson. Yet Lantigua’s presumed death still looked suspicious. Investigations ensued.

He had every motive to steal the life-insurance money. His two Circle K Furniture stores were declining with large debts thanks to a regional housing collapse. Strangely, he further drained the struggling business by ordering large loads of furniture for homes for family members in the area.

Small wonder Lantigua disappeared. Yet his amateurish attempts to disguise himself were a series of “What-was-I-thinking?” missteps.

His forged passport tripped him up. The man whose name Lantigua stole was black — the photo Lantigua submitted showed he is white. The Social Security number he used was from a woman born in 1917.

He even listed his supposed widow Simpson as his emergency contact — and her house in North Carolina as his U.S. address.

Lantigua was busted wearing a poorly dyed beard and brown toupee — while driving the black 2012 Jeep Wrangler he owned in Florida. He and Simpson were hiding in an isolated mountain community outside of Asheville, N.C.

The cremation also was suspicious — no body to confirm Lantigua’s death. Nor was there an autopsy before the presumed cremation. He’d bribed a Venezuelan doctor to sign a fake death certificate, and bureaucrat to issue a false cremation document.

Lantigua pleaded guilty and will spend up to 10 years in federal prison when sentenced. Simpson faces insurance-fraud charges.

The lifeless life-insurance con finally was laid to rest.

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