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Coast Guard wants a piece of fugitive banker who faked death

The Georgia banker who allegedly stole $21 million and then faked his death could also be on the hook for nearly $200,000 in costs incurred by the U.S. Coast Guard, which mounted an exhaustive search for him after he told his family he planned to jump from a ferry into the waters off Florida.

Aubrey Lee Price was arrested Tuesday in Brunswick, Ga., during a routine traffic stop after spending more than a year as a fugitive, according to authorities. Price disappeared June 18, 2012, after sending a rambling letter to his family and acquaintances that investigators characterized as a confession, indicated he planned to kill himself by jumping from a ferry in Florida. 

The note prompted a Coast Guard search and rescue effort from Fort Myers to Key West, involving an HC-130 Hercules aircraft and an HC-144 Ocean Sentry plane. The cost of operating those aircraft, respectively, is $17,866 and $15,354 per hour, Coast Guard officials said. In addition to putting Coast Guard members in harm’s way, the effort cost the branch more than $173,000, authorities said.

Creating a hoax or making a false distress call is a felony. The maximum penalty for making a false distress call is six years in prison, a $5,000 fine, a $250,000 criminal fine and reimbursement to the Coast Guard.

An FBI spokesman said Wednesday that Price told authorities his family didn't know he was still alive and that he had returned to Georgia to renew the tag on his truck. It wasn't clear where he'd been for the previous 18 months.

Price was indicted in federal court in Savannah in July 2012 on charges of taking $21 million from a small Georgia bank where he was director. He was also allegedly bilked many millions more from investors in his money management business. He also faces federal wire fraud charges in New York.

Price left his home in south Georgia on June 16, 2012, telling relatives he was headed to Guatemala for business. Two days later, Price's family and acquaintances 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.

"My depression and discouragement have driven me to deep anxiety, fear and shame,” according to a rambling confession letter investigators believe was written by Price. “I am emotionally overwhelmed and incapable of continuing in this life.”

The letter continued: "I created false statements, covered up my losses and deceived and hurt the very people I was trying to help.”

Price purchased dive weights and a ferry ticket, according to credit card records. 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, Fla., airport and ferry terminal on the day he disappeared.

After more than a year on the run, Price was arrested Tuesday when Glynn County sheriff's deputies pulled over a 2001 Dodge on the interstate because they thought its window tint was too dark, Sheriff E. Neal Jump was quoted by the Journal-Constitution as saying. Deputies arrested Price after finding fake IDs in the vehicle.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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