by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering a $20,000 reward for a missing Georgia banker accused in a multimillion dollar investment scheme. A federal grand jury indicted him Wednesday on criminal charges.
Aubrey “Lee” Price vanished after sending relatives and regulators a suicide note and confession letter. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI have both filed complaints against him, which would seem to indicate agents believe he may be on the run.
"I think that he is alive. I have nothing to base that on other than that I think he is a coward, and I think cowards don't kill themselves," investor Wendy Cross told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.
Cross said she invested $300,000 with Price, and months of bogus statements from Price's investment firm led her to believe she had about $360,000 in her accounts.
"It's not just my money. It was my dreams. It was my future. It was my freedom gone," said Cross.
She said she had worked her entire adult life to save that money for her retirement. She currently runs a food truck which she may have to sell.
"He's a thief, and he's a liar, and those people, nothing fazes them. So it doesn't matter how angry I am," Cross said.
Federal investigators said Price lost about $40 million belonging to roughly 115 investors.
Cross told Fleischer, "I understand now why people commit suicide when they lose everything. I get it."
Though, Price was the one threatening suicide. He sent a 22-page letter entitled “Confidential Confession for Regulators” to several family members and others.
The letter reads, “I realize that time is up, and there is no way that I can work my way out of the mess that I have created.”
Price went on to say, “No one else had any knowledge of any fraudulent activity." He signed the letter “with deepest regrets, sorrow, and sadness.”
Cross believes the whole thing was contrived.
"He was planning this exit for a long time. He's a very smart individual. It's too bad it was used for such evil," said Cross.
Property records show Price sold his waterfront home in Florida in May for more than $800,000. Different companies now occupy his offices in McDonough. The SEC has frozen his assets.
"We have no information that he's not alive," said Bill Hicks, the SEC's associate regional director in Atlanta.
According to the FBI arrest affidavit, Price told others he planned to kill himself off the coast of Florida by jumping off of a ferry boat. Investigators found some evidence to indicate he boarded a ferry from Key West to Ft. Myers, but the trail ended there. The agent wrote, “Despite a recent search by the Coast Guard, Price's body has not been recovered.”
The same affidavit indicates that Price is believed to have purchased real estate in Venezuela and that he frequently traveled there. He also told others about owning a boat that would be large enough to travel to Venezuela from Florida.
"I hope they find him, and I hope he suffers, and I hope he sees some of this path of financial carnage he has left behind," said Cross.
Investiators say Price's scheme also contributed to the failure of Montgomery Bank and Trust in South Georgia. Federal regulators shut down branches in Ailey and Vidalia last week, hauling away boxes of evidence.
Price invested $10 million in the bank, purporting to try to help save it from failing. But the latest court filing says he instead used his position as a bank director in charge of investing the bank's capital, to have money transferred to his own investment accounts.
During an 18 month period, federal investigators believe Price stole, misappropriated and embezzled over $21 million from MB&T. To cover up his fraud, investigators say Price also provided bank officials with bogus account statements which falsely indicated the bank's capital was safely held in an account at a financial services firm.
As a result of Price's alleged fraud upon MB&T, the bank's cash assets and reserves were depleted.