U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Corrigan has sentenced 63-year-old Jose Salvador Lantigua to 14 years in federal prison for bank fraud and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. His wife, Daphne Simpson, was sentenced to 5 years’ probation for her role, but she had already served 17 months of pretrial detention. Both will also be ordered to make complete restitution to the victims of the charged offenses.
In 2012, Historic City News learned that by using false and fraudulent documents, Lantigua procured $2 million in loans from a Jacksonville bank when his Jacksonville furniture store, Circle K, was suffering financial problems.
In January 2013, Lantigua lied to Simpson and told her that he was suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, commonly referred to as Mad Cow Disease. He told his wife that he had less than a year to live. He said that he could receive surgical treatment for his disease, but not in the United States.
Initially, Lantigua told Simpson that he would be traveling to Colombia, South America, for the potentially life-saving surgery. Shortly before he was scheduled to leave, however, he told her that he did not have the disease, but that his past was catching up with him from his time with an Army military special operations team.
He explained that the team had killed a drug cartel leader and he was currently being blackmailed by a rogue CIA agent who would expose his identity to the cartel member’s son if he did not satisfy the blackmail demands. He also told his wife that both their families were in danger and to protect them, he needed to fake his own death.
Both explanations were entirely false, but, Lantigua did develop a plan to leave the country and secure a fraudulent death certificate. In April 2013, Lantigua traveled to Margarita Island, just off the coast of Venezuela, and purchased a sham death certificate and a fraudulent certificate of cremation. Later in the month, Simpson joined Lantigua in Venezuela, where she obtained a “Certificate of Death Abroad” using the sham death certificate and certificate of cremation. Armed with the documents, she returned to Jacksonville.
In June 2013, Simpson began to submit fraudulent claims to seven life insurance companies. The death benefit applications claimed that her husband had died due to complications from CJD and that the purpose of his trip to Venezuela had been to seek medical treatment. In total, Lantigua had seven separate life insurance policies cumulatively valued at more than $6.6 million. However, several of the companies raised issues and only three of the polices paid death benefits, which totaled $871,067.11.
In the fall of 2013, Simpson took a cruise to the Bahamas to meet up with Lantigua. While in the Bahamas, they paid an individual $5,000 to smuggle them back into the United States on a fishing boat. Once in the United States, Lantigua traveled under a false identification, using the name Harry Fields. In early December 2013, he traveled by bus to Jacksonville, where Simpson picked him up and they drove to a house they had purchased on their honeymoon in Cashiers, North Carolina.
On September 30, 2014, Lantigua went to a North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles office and fraudulently obtained a driver’s license in a false name. Less than two months later, he went to a United States Post Office in North Carolina and fraudulently applied for a passport using the false name. Officials detected the passport fraud and discovered a previous passport issued in the name Jose Salvador Lantigua.
On March 21, 2015, Special Agents from the State Department and the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations conducted surveillance near the home that Lantigua had used in his fraudulent applications, confronted Lantigua, and then arrested him.
This case was investigated by the United States State Department, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the Internal Revenue Service, the North Carolina Bureau of Investigations, and the Florida Department of Financial Services. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mark B. Devereaux.