A Florida businessman who authorities say faked his own death to dodge debts while reaping millions in life insurance benefits is sitting in a North Carolina jail, and a passport application reportedly proved his undoing. Jose Salvador Lantigua—wearing a "poorly dyed beard" and a brown toupee—was arrested Saturday near his wife's luxury mountain home in Sapphire after allegedly filing a passport application in November using the name of an ex-postal worker from New York. According to the federal criminal complaint against him, Lantigua applied for a passport using a North Carolina driver's license issued to him in September under the other man's name, along with a New York birth certificate. However, when the application was processed by the State Department, it raised numerous red flags.
For one, the New York man's 1999 passport photo was of a black man, while the new photo submitted was of a white man. Investigators used facial recognition software to match the new photo with an earlier photo from Lantigua's real passport and tracked him to the home of his purported widow. The 62-year-old was charged with a single count of making a false statement on a passport application; he was also charged in Florida with seven counts of filing fraudulent insurance claims and one count of scheming to fraud. Prosecutors say he used a false Venezuelan death certificate to file more than $9 million in life insurance claims in 2013; his family said he had died in Venezuela after an illness and that his body had been cremated. Lantigua reportedly signed a form waiving his Miranda rights using his real signature. "It's been a long time since I signed my true name," he told the agents, according to court filings.