(NEW YORK) — A Florida businessman’s alleged attempt to fake his death came to a halt when authorities said they caught him in North Carolina applying for a driver’s license and passport with a stolen identity.
Authorities said they first sniffed out discrepancies in Jose Lantigua’s application because he didn’t have all the accurate information about the man whose identity he was using, a retired postal worker living in New York.
“It’s been a long time since I signed my true name,” Lantigua said when he waived his Miranda Rights in writing, according to his criminal complaint.
In the complaint, authorities said Lantigua was using a date of birth, Social Security number, New York driver’s license and birth certificate of Ernest Wills. But there were “multiple discrepancies” in Lantigua’s application for a new license and passport, including his place of birth, hair color, signature, occupation and passport photographs.
Lantigua’s story goes back to 2013, when he had reportedly become ill and died on vacation in Venezuela in 2013. But insurance companies and his lenders were suspicious.
Last weekend, Lantiqua, 62, was captured by authorities and placed under arrest in North Carolina.
When Lantigua tried to get a new passport, listing “freelance writer” as his occupation, the Charleston Passport Center investigated the discrepancies and used facial recognition software to search a U.S. State Department database to match the photo he submitted, according to the criminal complaint in Lantigua’s case. It matched with a photo of Jose Salvador Lantigua, and the center discovered “numerous Internet news articles indicating that [Lantigua] had allegedly faked his own death.”
Special agents with the U.S. Department of State then conducted surveillance on Lantigua and then addressed him as Jose Lantigua, according to the complaint.
“Yes, sir,” Lantigua responded, according to the report, before he was arrested.
Lantigua and his wife, Daphne Simpson, are being charged with seven counts of fraudulent insurance claims and one count of schemes to defraud. Each charge is a first-degree felony that can lead to as many as 30 years in prison.
There also are lawsuits against Lantigua and his estate over nearly $10 million in life insurance payouts and Lantigua’s debts, according to the Florida State Attorney’s Office.
“During a search incident to arrest, agents discovered that [Lantigua] had a poorly-dyed beard and was wearing a brown toupee,” the complaint in his case states.
Lantigua, who is in federal custody in North Carolina, has a detention hearing scheduled for Friday in Asheville. The federal defender listed as Lantigua’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Simpson was released by authorities in North Carolina but arrested in Florida, where she remains in the Duval County Jail.
Simpson has a hearing scheduled next month and she will be assigned a public defender, according to the Florida State Attorney’s Office. The public defender’s office for Duval County said it had not yet assigned her an attorney.
Efforts to reach Lantigua’s son, Joseph Lantigua, were unsuccessful.
The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, which is handling Lantigua’s case, declined to comment.
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