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UK man who faked his own death to travel to Costa Rica sentenced

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Hugo Jose Sanchez thought he had it all figured out. The 57-year old man from the United Kingdom planned to establish a business in the burgeoning 3G computer graphic imaging (CGI) and animation industry in Costa Rica. Working as a web developer for music retailer HMV was not cutting it, and he longed for the success of companies such as the Morpho animation studio in San Jose. Perhaps he thought he could hire a few talented Ticos to work for peanuts at a “render farm” or CGI sweatshop and get to emulate the achievements of master computer animator Thelvin Cabezas from Cartago.

At any rate, his dreams did not work out the first time around. According to an article by Rowena Mason and Martin Evans in The Telegraph, Mr. Sanchez began to rack up credit card debt in the town of Farnham, Borough of Waverley, County of Surrey. That was back in 2003. In 2004 he moved with his wife Sophie to Costa Rica to set up the computer animation enterprise, but things did not work out and so they returned to England.

Back in the UK, Mr. Sanchez incurred into even more debt. He is originally from Ecuador, and he flew there and faked his death with the complicity of his wife. Death benefits from Mr. Sanchez’ life insurance policy were collected by his then-presumed widow, and the credit card debt and loans were paid off, some with death protection plans. Mrs. Sanchez returned to Costa Rica at that moment with the nice sum of 112,000 pounds sterling (about $175,650 these days). She also received monthly payments.

The Elvis CD

In 2005, a friend of Mr. Sanchez used an HMV discount card to purchase an Elvis Presley CD, which in the end proved to be cruel. The friend was arrested and tried to call Mr. Sanchez to clear things up. By then he had moved to Australia with his wife. They were quietly living their lives Down Under with false identification documents, but in 2010 Mrs. Sanchez flew into Heathrow to attend her sister’s wedding. She was arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to two years in prison.

Authorities in Sidney eventually caught up to Mr. Sanchez and extradited him to England. Before Oxford Crown Court, the man pleaded guilty to a dozen charges of fraud and was sentenced to five years, of which he is expected to serve half. The couple has four children.

Why Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is a prime tourist destination, and our vacations can be legendary, but are they worth the fabrication of a death, which is a punishable offense in most jurisdictions?

Mr. Sanchez is not the only person known to fake death in order to travel to Costa Rica. Back in January, American publication Time Magazine reported on the case of New York City woman who extended her 2010 spring break vacation by faking her daughter’s death. Joan Barnett is a public school employee who asked one of her daughters to contact her employer and claim that her sibling passed away in Costa Rica from cardiac arrest.

Mrs. Barnett jumped on an airplane and came down for two and a half weeks. She faxed a death certificate from Costa Rica to New York City, as required by administrative rules. School officials had suspicions and looked into the matter. When the death certificate was determined to be a sham, Mrs. Barnett was dismissed from her job and charged with a misdemeanor, to which she pleaded guilty.

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