Disgraced former Bradenton banker caught, faked own death

Atlanta Journal Constitution and CHARLES SCHELLEBradenton HeraldJanuary 3, 2014 

Former Bradenton banker and investment adviser Aubrey Lee Price told a federal probation officer he had been homeless, hard up for cash and was moving about the country doing odd jobs.

The pewter-colored pickup he was driving, which had dents, spots of rust and deeply tinted windows, carried a smattering of junk, a propane tank, a pair of blue jeans and a sleeping bag.

Not much is known about Price's 18 months on the lam, but a few more details emerged Thursday about his life on the run and his arrest during a brief court hearing and from interviews with law enforcement officials in Brunswick, Ga., a port city about 300 miles southeast of downtown Atlanta.

Price, 47, faked his own death after he was indicted in July 2012 for allegedly embezzling more than $21 million from a small South Georgia bank. He is also accused of defrauding more than 100 clients of his investment advisory business of many millions of dollars more.

Prosecutors have said Price raised roughly $40 million from about 115 investors, mostly in Georgia and Florida, through the sale of membership interests in his investment firm. Authorities believe Price slipped away with up to $17 million of investor money.

Glynn County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested Price following a traffic stop Tuesday morning. Authorities said he had multiple fake IDs and told deputies, who at the time did

not know who he was, conflicting stories about where he had been.

Price lived with his wife and children in Bradenton until a few months ago but bought a home in Valdosta, Ga., before his 2012 disappearance, according to authorities. Price moved his family to the south Georgia city, where his wife's parents lived, a few weeks before he disappeared.

Price shuffled into a small courtroom Thursday on the third floor of the federal courthouse in Brunswick to hear the charges against him. His legs were shackled, his dark hair draped over the shoulders of his navy blue jail jumpsuit.

It was a jarring departure from the clean-cut, light haired investment adviser in the crisp suit and friendly smile in the photo distributed by the FBI when he disappeared in June 2012 hinting he planned to leap to his death from a South Florida ferry boat out of Fort Myers.

Price quietly said "yes sir" to the judge a few times when asked questions about his understanding of court procedure. Price didn't look at the half-dozen or so family members in the gallery, and they declined to comment or identify themselves, with one woman saying only that "the truth will come out."

A federal probation officer told U.S. Magistrate Court Judge James Graham that Price had said in an interview that he was homeless, shuttling around the nation as a migrant worker.

Where exactly Price stayed, who he worked for and whether he had any help in staying hidden were among many unanswered questions. Also left unanswered was how much money, if any, he had with him when he boarded a ferry boat in Key West where he was last seen. Local and federal authorities also declined to say if he had any money on him when he was captured.

Price disappeared after sending a rambling letter to his family and acquaintances that investigators now describe as a confession. A Florida judge declared him dead a year ago, but the FBI didn't believe Price was dead and continued to search for him.

Price left a trail of messy business dealings in Manatee County before he left and some are still being cleaned up today.

Throughout 2013, approval from a federal judge allowed the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell Price's seized properties, including several in Manatee County.

Land holdings in Price's name included condos at 3500 El Conquistador Parkway Unit 130, two units in Harbor Pines, property at 3211 Florida Blvd. and industrial space at 910 and 950 N. Commerce Blvd. in Tallevast. A property owned by Price's firm, PFG, was also seized for sale at 3101 Bayshore Gardens Parkway, according to court documents.

Most properties sold at the same price they fetched prior to acquisition -- far from a fire sale.

The federal manhunt for Price was on just weeks after he sold his home at 3212 Bay Drive in June 2012 through his firm PFG.

Property records show PFG still retains ownership of a bank building at 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive in Longboat Key valued at $664,180. PFG performed two quit claim deeds on the property to re-assign the property to itself from a related company, often a sign of mortgage fraud.

Melanie Damian, a receiver for PFG, signed an affidavit Aug. 27 that PFG and PFG Asset Management, which were used in the quit claim deeds, were one and the same business, and were used for the Longboat Key transfer, according to court documents.

Before PFG Asset moved to Longboat Key, the company operated out of an office at 7441 N. Tamiami Trail in Whitfield from May 2010 to May 2011, said Larry Schaper, a broker for Michael Saunders & Co., which handled the lease at the time.

PFG and Montgomery were dissolved, and the Montgomery Growth Fund was dissolved in 2011 for "expense-related reasons; lack of business and profitability and cost of business."

A business associate of Price listed on his Florida business filings, A. Kathryn Giardina, was unable to be reached at phone numbers listed in state filings because they were either changed or have been disconnected.

Price also had another business created in May 2011, SCAN International USA, with Edgar Stuardo M. Archila registered to his former Bay Drive home. That business was declared inactive Sept. 27, 2013, after failure to submit an annual report, according to Florida business filings.

Archila was also listed as president for another Price business, Rehoboth International Telecommunications Inc., created in July 2011 and voluntarily dissolved in January 2012 because the business did not get off the ground, according to filings. No phone numbers were available for Archila.

Neither SCAN nor Rehboth was named in the federal suit against Price.

Price has been indicted in federal courts in New York and Georgia, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a complaint against him in federal court in Atlanta.

FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett said he didn't know if Price's wife and children knew he was still alive. His family had told investigators they believed Price was dead.

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 Myers 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 22-page 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."

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 airport and ferry terminal the day he disappeared.

Price owned real estate in Venezuela and told people he frequently went there and to Guatemala. The FBI said in February investigators had accounted for all the vehicles Price owned, except a 17-foot fiberglass boat. The agency said it was possible Price used the boat to flee.

J. Scott Trubey, is a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He can be contacted at strubey@ajc.com.

Charles Schelle, Bradenton Herald business reporter, can be contacted at cschelle@bradenton.com or 941-745-7095.

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