News Column

Court order forged, not sure by whom, says judge in fight over Duval man's reported death in Venezuela

June 2, 2014

By Steve Patterson, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville



June 02--A Venezuelan court order about a missing First Coast businessman is a forgery, but "how that forgery came to happen ... remain[s] a mystery," a Jacksonville judge has concluded.

The ruling last month by Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace means that Hartford Life and Annuity Insurance Co. won't face any fines or punishment -- for now, anyway -- for filing bogus paperwork in a court fight over former Circle K Furniture owner Jose Lantigua's$2 million life insurance policy.

Hartford has contended Lantigua, who lived in Jacksonville Beach, is living now in Venezuela, where he was reported dead and cremated last year.

The company filed paperwork written in Spanish that it said was a Venezuelan court's order revoking the death certificate, but that paperwork turned out to be fake.

'NOT CLEAR'

Lantigua's family asked for the insurer to face sanctions, but Wallace's May 15 ruling said that should only be done when a company clearly understood it was passing off a forgery.

"At this stage of the proceedings, the evidence is not clear and convincing as to what Hartford's attorneys knew of the falsity of the ... order," Waddell wrote in an order giving the insurance company leeway to file a different argument.

The insurance company apparently got the forged document from another company, Diligence International Group, that researches overseas deaths.

Wallace said Diligence found "facts that raised reasonable suspicion" about whether Lantigua is really dead but that it was unclear who knew the evidence presented to his court was fake.

CLAIMS FILED

Lantigua's family closed two Circle K stores, on the Westside and Southside, after he was reported to have died in April 2013 while traveling in a Venezuelan tourist town near the Caribbean coast.

As the family worked through his estate, two companies -- American Enterprise Bank and Mr. Wink2 LLC -- filed separate claims that Lantigua had used the insurance policy as security to line up multimillion-dollar loans. In October, a Hartford claim examiner wrote to Lantigua's family lawyer that he was still alive, so the insurer owed nothing.

In the back-and-forth that followed, Hartford lawyers asserted that Diligence employees interviewed a Venezuelan lawyer who acknowledged being part of a scheme to invent documentation of a death and cremation that hadn't happened.

Hartford also said Diligence interviewed the doctor who signed the death certificate and that he reported never meeting or treating Lantigua, just signing a death certificate for a funeral director who asked him to.

Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263

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(c)2014 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Visit The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) at www.jacksonville.com

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Source: Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL)


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