The Dead ManIf you search around, you can still find old news articles lamenting the death of Jose Lantigua, a Florida business owner who had reportedly died on April 17, 2013 while on a business trip in Venezuela. His body was cremated there, and a memorial service was planned in Jacksonville, Florida. News reports announcing the death quoted Lantigua’s grieving son as stating, “Our family is working hard to deal with the loss of a true father, friend, and mentor. We were truly blessed to have him in our lives; he will be missed by all of us as well as by this community.” Shortly thereafter, the Jacksonville furniture store that Lantigua owned, Circle K Furniture, shuttered its doors, and Lantigua’s family set out to collect on seven life insurance policies, totaling over a million dollars. Two of the policies had been paid out before suspicion grew.
The InvestigatorsHeaded by Richard Marquez, a private investigator with over 35 years’ experience in the field, the DI Group regularly handled insurance cases like this one and was well prepared to take on the case. When the DI Group was first contacted by insurance companies to investigate the case of Jose Lantigua, the initial research was conducted from the Dallas, Texas office. But as the investigation grew more complicated, Marquez ended up sending a team that included some of his best investigators, including the DI Group’s managing director of South America, which is based in Colombia, to the coast of Venezuela.
Getting Started: The Initial InvestigationIt was August 2013, when private investigators at Diligence International Group received what appeared to be a typical case investigating five of the seven life insurance claims for Jose Lantigua. For private investigators like the DI Group, it’s simply part of the normal review process for insurance companies to investigate an insurance policy when a person dies outside of the U.S. That process includes validating the insurance claim by substantiating documentation and conducting interviews of witnesses and individuals associated with the person in question. Richard Marquez explained in a phone interview that “Knowing what to expect is very instrumental to a successful investigation.” And so, the team of investigators began by reviewing the documentation that was provided to certify that Lantigua had died. What they found was authentic documentation that showed Lantigua had died in a small town on the coast of Venezuela. Beyond the authentic documentation, the manner of death was anything but ambiguous — it was alleged by the family that Lantigua died of a heart attack after receiving treatment for Mad Cow disease. And when the investigators dug deeper, they found real signatures of the doctor who had declared Lantigua dead and the manager of the cremation service, both of whom actually existed. On the surface, it appeared as though everything was in place: the right documentation, real signatures, and a grieving family, which is likely why two of the seven insurance companies had paid out their policies. But it was a number of small inconsistencies that only the trained eye of a skilled, trained private investigator would notice that led Marquez and his team to further investigate the claim.
Digging Deeper: The Red FlagsAfter reviewing the documentation alleging Jose Lantigua’s death, which Marquez said “looked quite convincing” (after all, it had fooled two out of seven insurance companies), Marquez’s team determined that Lantigua had indeed secured authentic documentation. However, the seals and stamps on the documentation were fabricated. It was close, but not close enough. As the private investigators dug further, they uncovered an unlikely geographic path that Lantigua’s dead body would have taken. Things weren’t adding up, leaving a number of unanswered questions. Furthermore, Lantigua’s financial circumstances were suspicious with the furniture store in peril and the sheer amount and number of the life insurance policies. These findings precipitated the DI group to launch a full-scale investigation into the death of Jose Lantigua in Venezuela.
The InvestigationThe conditions were anything but favorable for on-location investigative work, with Venezuela being in the midst of violent protests and riots, but the DI Group had a job to do. A small team of investigators traveled to Venezuela to conduct interviews, validate claims, coordinate logistics, and get a real feel for the likelihood that Lantigua had died there. Marquez explained that “The doctor was about 30km away from the town, and then 250km away was the crematorium in Maturin. It didn’t really add up.” Typically, services would be a bit closer, and people would remember it happening, especially in a small town. When they arrived in Venezuela, they found that the death of Jose Lantigua had gone unnoticed by locals, which seemed improbable.
Maturin (shown as an orange dot) is 250km from where Lantigua "died"The team of investigators conducted a significant amount of interviews and tried to retrace the steps that Lantigua’s body would have taken. In order to provide more concrete evidence, however, they needed to interview key witnesses: the doctor and the cremation manager. Conditions in Venezuela at the time made this task incredibly difficult, and Marquez recalled, “One day [the team] had all these interviews planned, and the lights went out for about 6 hours. Those kind of situations impair your ability to move around and find people and talk to.” Despite less than favorable conditions, the investigative team eventually got the critical interviews that they needed, interviewing the two employees who worked at the small crematorium and the doctor who had declared Lantigua dead. The doctor who had certified the death admitted that he had not seen the corpse, and the cremation manager finally admitted that the cremation never happened after being confronted with the discrepancies that the DI Group found with the documentation. Although it took several attempts to get the truth from both the doctor and the cremation manager, the investigators were successful in getting the information they needed. With those confessions, the DI Group had confirmation that Jose Lantigua was not dead: “We were able to prove that the documents were inaccurate, and the death did not occur as the family had alleged.” According to Marquez, the investigation was one of the more complicated, longer cases they’ve had, with the investigation process taking approximately two to three months to complete.