Fugitive banker homeless before arrest

Last updated 13:43 03/01/2014
Aubrey Lee Price

BEFORE AND AFTER: Aubrey Lee Price pictured in an undated photo courtesy of the FBI, left, and in an undated booking photo courtesy of the Glynn County Sheriff's Office, right.

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A south Georgia bank director accused of losing millions of investor dollars before vanishing was homeless and worked odd jobs before his arrest earlier this week, a US marshal has told a federal judge.

Aubrey Lee Price had disappeared in June 2012 after sending a rambling letter to his family and acquaintances that investigators described as a confession. The letter said he had lost millions in investors' dollars and planned to kill himself by jumping from a ferry in Florida.

A Florida judge declared him dead a year ago, but FBI authorities had said they didn't believe Price was dead and continued to search for him.

The 47-year-old was arrested on Tuesday during a traffic stop on Interstate 95 in the coastal Georgia city.

On Thursday, US District Judge James Graham in Brunswick formally notified Aubrey Lee Price of the charges against him and set a bond hearing for Monday in Savannah.

The US marshal said at the court that Price told authorities he'd been working as a migrant worker, accepting cash for odd jobs, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

An FBI spokesman said on Wednesday that Price told authorities his family didn't know he was still alive and that he had returned to Georgia to renew the tag on his truck. It wasn't clear where he'd been for the previous 18 months.

Price was indicted in federal court in Savannah in July 2012 on charges of taking US$21 million (NZ$26m) from a small south Georgia bank where he was director. He was also accused of taking many millions more from investors in his money management business. He faces federal wire fraud charges in New York.

Price left his home in south Georgia on June 16, 2012, telling his family he was headed to Guatemala for business, authorities have said. Two days later, Price's family and acquaintances 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.

"My depression and discouragement have driven me to deep anxiety, fear and shame. I am emotionally overwhelmed and incapable of continuing in this life," said a rambling 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 said.

Credit card records showed he purchased dive weights and a ferry ticket. The ferry ticket was scanned at the boarding point, and security camera footage released by the FBI about six weeks after his disappearance showed Price at the Key West, Florida, airport and ferry terminal on the day he disappeared.

He was arrested on Tuesday when Glynn County sheriff's deputies pulled over a 2001 Dodge on the interstate because they thought its window tint was too dark, Sheriff E. Neal Jump was quoted by the Journal-Constitution as saying. Deputies arrested Price after finding fake IDs in the vehicle.

The US Coast Guard says the 47-year-old's disappearance prompted a search by aircraft. The agency says the search put rescuers in harm's way unnecessarily and cost the agency more than US$173,000.

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Creating a hoax or making a false distress call is a felony. The maximum penalty for making a false distress call is six years in prison, a US$5,000 fine, a US$250,000 criminal fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard.

- AP

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