SAVANNAH, Ga. - A south Georgia bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before he vanished last summer was indicted on federal fraud charges Friday.
However, it's unclear whether Aubrey Lee Price of Valdosta will ever face any charges in court. He went missing June 16 and a Florida judge recently declared him dead, although the FBI doesn't buy his statements in a written confession and letters to his family last year that he planned to drown himself off the Florida coast.
Security camera footage later showed Price at a ferry terminal in Key West.
The indictment in U.S. District Court of Eastern New York charges Price with securities and wire fraud, alleging he faked account statements to cover up big losses from investments he made in equity securities, options and real estate. It's the second criminal prosecution pending against Price, who had served as a director of Montgomery Bank & Trust in Ailey, Ga. He was also charged with bank fraud last year in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.
Prosecutors say Price raised $40 million from his bank and 115 investors, and lost much of the money. Melanie Damian, the lawyer appointed to recover Price's assets and help investors recoup some of their losses, said it's still unknown exactly how much of their money he lost.
On Dec. 31, a circuit court judge in Florida agreed to order a presumptive death certificate for Price at the request of his wife, Rebeka. Her attorney, John Holt, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday evening.
Judge Greg S. Parker ruled that the evidence left a reasonable conclusion "that Aubrey Lee Price took his own life at sea."
Authorities are still hunting for Price and are skeptical of his suicide story, considering how often he lied to investors and his own bank, said George Venizelos, assistant director of the FBI's New York office.
"It is therefore reasonable to assume that Price's talk of suicide was also a lie," Venizelos said. "The FBI is actively looking for Aubrey Lee Price."
Authorities have said they believe Price slipped away with up to $17 million of investors' money. In his rambling confession letter, Price denied stealing any of his clients' money, saying he lost it all through bad investments.
"I created false statements, covered up my losses and deceived and hurt the very people I was trying to help," the letter said.
Damian, the receiver appointed to track down Price's assets, said Friday that more than $400,000 has been recovered. She said Price owned more than $2 million in property and she hopes investors will ultimately recoup more than that.
As long as Price remains missing, Damian said, she doesn't expect the criminal prosecution would necessarily help with repayment of Price's investors.
"I'm sure if he was in custody people would want to see him pay the price for what he did," Damian said. "For the victims, we just need to try to recover as much as possible."
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