ATLANTA — After penning a rambling letter to financial regulators and writing notes to his family, a south Georgia bank director recently indicted for bank fraud 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.
Price was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Savannah. Prosecutors say his actions led to the depletion of the cash assets and reserves of Montgomery Bank & Trust.
Price already faces federal charges in New York, where authorities have accused him of embezzling $17 million.
“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.
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.
Wendy Cross moved about $300,000 to Price’s firm after a trusted financial adviser told her it would be a good investment. She met Price in person once. She described a very religious, soft-spoken man with a gentle demeanor and an air of kindness.
“He should have won an Oscar for his performance that day,” she said. “He has left a path of financial carnage.”
The 46-year-old from Atlanta said she discovered something was wrong late last month when she wanted to withdraw some money from the firm to invest in another business. She tried multiple times to contact the firm to withdraw money.
When she texted her financial adviser, he responded that he had had no idea what was going on at the company and said he thought Price was still alive despite rumors of his suicide.
Cross said she is shocked and devastated by the loss of her savings. She owns a food truck that sells arepas, stuffed cornmeal patties popular in some Latin American countries, but said she will have to sell the truck because she needs the money to live. She can’t afford to hire a lawyer and said she doesn’t know what she’s going to do next.
Price lived with his wife and children in Bradenton, Fla., but bought a home in Valdosta earlier this year, according to authorities. Price had moved his family to the south Georgia city, where his wife’s parents live, just a few weeks before he disappeared. There were financial reasons behind the move, but it also appears Price may have been trying to make things easier on his family once he disappeared, Pritchett said.
Pritchett calls the case interesting and peculiar but wouldn’t speculate on whether Price is still alive.
“Until we have a body, it’s kind of hard to say,” Pritchett said. “It’s almost like a novel.”