By KATE BRUMBACK, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — After penning a rambling letter to financial regulators and writing notes to his family, a south Georgia bank director boarded a ferry in Key West, Fla., and disappeared.
Now local and federal investigators are trying to determine whether Aubrey Lee Price killed himself, as the lengthy letter — which they've described as a confession — would have them believe, or whether he slipped away with $17 million of investors' money. His family has told authorities they believe he's dead, but federal investigators aren't so sure and have offered $20,000 for information leading to his arrest.
"My depression and discouragement have driven me to deep anxiety, fear and shame. I am emotionally overwhelmed and incapable of continuing in this life," says the confession letter investigators believe was written by Price.
"I created false statements, covered up my losses and deceived and hurt the very people I was trying to help," the letter says.
Price apologizes at the beginning of the confession for its "lack of structure, grammar and harmony of thought." Indeed, it wanders from one subject to the next and back again and is sprinkled with grammatical errors and Bible verses. It includes claims that Price is solely responsible for the banking losses; apologies to his clients, associates and partners; claims that banking was never his area of expertise and that he got bad advice; some blame for regulators and other outside forces; repeated mentions of the stress and anxiety he says he has felt for months; and many allusions to his apparent intent to kill himself. The confession also denies that any money was stolen, saying it was all lost through bad investments.
Members of Price's family and several of his associates mentioned in court documents did not return calls seeking comment. A manager at the bank he directed, which has been purchased by another bank and reopened this week under a different name, said he couldn't comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Price left his home in south Georgia on June 16, telling his family he was headed to Guatemala for business, said Sgt. Aaron Pritchett of the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating his disappearance. Two days later, Price's family received letters saying he was going to Key West to board a ferry headed to Fort Meyers and planned to jump off somewhere along the way to end his life.
Credit card records show he purchased dive weights and a ferry ticket. The ferry ticket was scanned at the boarding point, but that's where the trail runs cold, Pritchett said.
The Coast Guard searched for him, and investigators talked to the ferry crew and rental car agencies in the Fort Meyers area, to no avail.
Price has said he owns real estate in Venezuela and frequently went there and to Guatemala. Airline records show he had returned to the U.S. from a trip to Venezuela on June 2, according to a statement from an FBI investigator. Price may also own a boat that's big enough to travel from Florida to Venezuela, the investigator said.
Price became director of Montgomery Bank & Trust in Ailey, Ga., in December 2010, when a company he controlled bought a controlling portion of the bank's stock, according to a complaint filed late last month in federal court in New York. Price then opened brokerage accounts through a securities clearing and custodial firm in New York and told bank managers he would invest in U.S. Treasury securities.
Instead of investing the bank's money, authorities say Price wired the funds into accounts he controlled at other financial institutions and provided bank managers with fraudulent documents.
The FBI and federal prosecutors say Price embezzled $17 million in bank funds. The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a complaint in federal court in Atlanta saying he defrauded investors. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on Friday said it seized Montgomery Bank & Trust.