Feb. 27--An insurance company that said a Jacksonville businessman's death in Venezuela was faked used phony records itself to try to convince a judge, lawyers for the businessman's son are arguing.
And they're asking that judge to throw out as "a sham pleading" a claim by Hartford Life and Annuity Insurance Co. that Circle K Furniture owner Jose Lantigua is still alive -- which would stop anyone from cashing in his $2 million insurance policy.
The strange installment in the running fight over Lantigua's estate, now contested in both state and federal courts, led to an uncommon request this week for court sanctions against Hartford Life for filing a bogus copy of a Venezuelan court order.
"I don't know that I've had to do it before ever in my career. It is extremely rare," said Joshua Woolsey, an attorney representing Lantigua's son, Joseph.
"There is actual evidence -- it's not gray, it's black and white -- that the insurance company ... [used] falsified evidence."
A spokesman for Prudential Financial, Hartford Life's parent company, declined to comment Wednesday, noting the case is still open.
Hartford filed a 194-page motion in November that included photocopies of a court order from Venezuela, written in Spanish and bearing notary seals that seemed to assure its authenticity. The order seemed to void a death certificate issued in April that said Lantigua had a heart attack. It also referred to an investigation by Diligence International Group, a Texas-based company that examines overseas death claims involving people holding high-dollar insurance policies.
But the motion Woolsey filed Monday pointed out a problem: The order in the Hartford file didn't match one in a website Venezuela's judiciary uses to record judgments and orders.
The word "negar," or deny, was missing from a sentence in the version Hartford filed, as was the word "inadmisible."
The effect, Woolsey's motion said, was that an order denying a challenge to the death certificate had been changed so it no longer showed the challenge had been rejected.
"Hartford's pleading must be stricken as a sham," Woolsey wrote, adding later that "the conduct of Hartford and/or ... Diligence is egregious," and warranted strong consequences.
Diligence managing director Richard Marquez also declined comment.
"It's an open investigation. It's still very much in litigation," he said.
Circuit Court Judge Waddell Wallace didn't immediately rule on Woolsey's motion.
The fight could affect more than one insurance policy.
Lantigua had other policies that benefited his wife and daughter, and the companies holding those have been unwilling to pay out as well, Woolsey said. He said he assumes the companies have traded notes on the death and won't pay until another one does.
"We've got a family that is grieving over the loss of their father, their husband ... and could really use" the policy payouts, he said.
Joseph Lantigua was sued in November by American general Life Insurance, which wanted a federal judge to issue an order saying it didn't have to pay anything on a $2 million policy. That case is also pending.
Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263
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