STATESBORO, Ga. (AP) — Eighteen months ago, former investment adviser Aubrey Lee Price was declared dead. On Thursday, Price — very much alive — stood before a judge and pleaded guilty in a fraud scheme that fueled a rural bank’s collapse and cost his investors tens of millions of dollars.
“I genuinely and humbly accept responsibility for my unlawful behavior and criminal conduct,” Price said in court, shorn of the long hair and beard he wore when a sheriff’s deputy pulled him over on New Year’s Eve over tinted windows.
The 2013 traffic stop marked the end of Price’s time on the run. Price had vanished in June 2012, leaving rambling suicide notes saying he planned to jump off a ferryboat. Now, he faces a lengthy prison sentence.
His deal with prosecutors calls for a maximum of 30 years in prison in exchange for guilty pleas to bank, wire and securities fraud. He also agreed to pay $51 million in restitution for bank and investor money that he lost, despite having convinced the court to appoint him a lawyer because he had no money to hire one.
Price, 47, told a U.S. District Court judge he lied to clients and gave them phony financial statements to cover his tracks as he lost their money in speculative trading and other high-risk investments. After his disappearance, a judge declared him dead at his wife’s request.
Mary Jo Peters, a former Delta Airlines worker, said she invested “a huge amount” of savings with Price. She heard his apology in court but wasn’t moved.
“That’s typical Lee — he’s always falling on his sword,” said Peters, of St. Simons Island “Unfortunately, we’ve learned he’s not who we thought he was.”
Prosecutors say Price lost much of $40 million he raised from about 115 clients to his private investment firm. He also misspent, embezzled and lost $21 million belonging to the Montgomery Bank & Trust in rural southeast Georgia, where Price had served as a bank director since 2010. The bank closed a few weeks after Price went missing two years ago. Its assets and reserves were depleted.
As he pleaded guilty Thursday, Price gave a glimpse into his time on the run. He said his flight from the financial mess left him depressed. He said he tried smoking marijuana and methamphetamine and had tasted cocaine, but mostly self-medicated with the prescription amphetamine Adderall. Price said he also adopted at least five aliases, including Jason Rollins and Javier Martinez.
He worked odd jobs and performed migrant labor, according to accounts he gave officials when he was arrested. Florida investigators suspect he also may have been growing marijuana.
The plea agreement settles federal charges pending against Price in Georgia and New York. Prosecutors agreed to drop 16 related bank fraud counts in Georgia as well as recently added charges in Miami related to the Coast Guard’s search for Price after his faked suicide.
Attorneys said money already collected from the seizure and sale of Price’s homes and other assets will be counted toward the $51 million he’s agreed to repay.
A federal receiver reported April 30 that about $3.3 million had been collected. But that includes $1.8 million in life insurance payments made after Price was declared dead. Insurance companies have gone to court seeking to take that money back.
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