Man in Fake-Death Insurance Plot Seized
A former San Fernando Valley electrical contractor accused of faking his own drowning two years ago to collect on life insurance policies has been arrested in Florida along with his wife, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Wednesday.
Bruce Jay Richenthal, 36, and his wife, Susan, 33, surrendered to FBI agents in Miami last week on fugitive warrants based on grand theft and insurance fraud charges filed in Los Angeles. D.A.'s Investigator Ray Rust said Susan Richenthal collected $50,000 from Manufacturer's Life Insurance Co. but that a $550,000 claim with a second insurance firm, Old Republic Life Co., was denied.
Two associates of Richenthal had reported to the Coast Guard on March 30, 1983, that Richenthal had fallen off a sailboat near Marina del Rey and disappeared.
A Private Investigator is hired to reveal the facts
Rust credited David Kramer, a Las Vegas private investigator hired by Old Republic in mid-1983, with breaking the case. Kramer said by telephone Wednesday that he became suspicious when a former business associate of Richenthal told him he thought he had seen Richenthal after his reported death.
Subsequent oceanographic tests showed that Richenthal's body should have washed ashore near Marina del Rey "but a body was never found," Kramer added.
In October, 1983, two associates of Richenthal who had been on the rented sailboat with him and had reported his disappearance to the U.S. Coast Guard recanted their earlier statements, according to investigators' reports filed in Los Angeles Municipal Court.
The two men, Joel Feigenheimer, 27, and Paul Hopp, 28, both last known to be living in Arizona, are also being sought by local authorities on conspiracy charges stemming from the alleged fraud.
The pair were allegedly promised $10,000 for their part in the scheme. But Kramer said they told him they never were paid.
According to court records, the two alleged accomplices flew from Phoenix to Burbank on the morning of the incident and were picked up at the airport by Richenthal. Later that day, they went sailing at Marina del Rey and after allegedly letting Richenthal off, sailed back to sea, sipped some beer and called the Coast Guard.
Schwartz, the couple's attorney, said they surrendered voluntarily April 3 after the FBI contacted Susan Richenthal's mother in Miami. Richenthal has admitted in court, Schwartz said, that he is the person being sought in the case.
"I don't know if they were surprised," the attorney said. "His wife told me they had been living really in hell for two years not knowing what to do."
This is not the first Fraudelence
Court records show that Richenthal, who was born in Brooklyn, also lived in Grants Pass, Ore., during 1979. But his house there was destroyed by fire--for which he filed a $125,000 claim. The fire, court records reveal, was investigated for possible arson and the insurance claim was denied.