Businessman accused of faking death for insurance cash pleads guilty

Jose Lantigua.

Jose Lantigua.  (AP Photo/Buncombe County, North Carolina Sheriff's Office)

A Florida businessman who authorities say faked his own death to defraud insurance companies out of millions of dollars pleaded guilty this week, local media reported.

Jose Lantigua faces up to 50 years in prison, but prosecutors have agreed to seek less time, the Florida Times-Union reported on Tuesday. Lantigua, 63, agreed to forfeit money or valuables to help satisfy court judgments totaling about $2.8 million.

The former owner of a Jacksonville furniture business, Lantigua admitted to concocting a story with his wife that he had mad cow disease and was traveling to Venezuela for treatment. According to his plea agreement, he traveled there to get a fake death certificate.

Other paperwork he said he obtained in South America claimed a drug cartel was out to kill him, and that he'd previously led a fictional Army Special Operations team.

He was arrested last year in North Carolina while applying for a passport in another man's name. He reportedly was wearing a toupee and had dyed his beard.

Prosecutors said he even "hoodwinked" his wife, Daphne Simpson. She pleaded guilty last month to her part in the scam.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.