STATESBORO, Ga. – A former Georgia investment adviser was sentenced to 30 years in prison Tuesday for committing fraud that fueled a bank's collapse, cost investors millions of dollars and turned the accused banker into a fugitive who was ultimately -- and mistakenly -- declared dead.
Aubrey Lee Price, 48, returned to U.S. District Court for sentencing after he pleaded guilty in June to bank, wire and securities fraud. Price lost much of the $40 million he raised from about 115 clients at his private investment firm. Prosecutors say he also misspent, embezzled and lost $21 million belonging to the Montgomery Bank & Trust in rural southeast Georgia, where Price served as bank director.
Price vanished in June 2012, a few weeks before the bank closed with its assets and reserves depleted, and he left rambling letters saying he planned to jump off a ferryboat. In December 2013, a year after a Florida judge declared him dead at his wife's request, Price was captured in a routine traffic stop near Brunswick on the Georgia coast.
Price cut a plea deal with prosecutors that called for a maximum of 30 years in prison and in exchange for his guilty pleas to three fraud counts. Price also agreed to pay tens of millions 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 gave rambling speech in front of the judge in which he acknowledged responsibility but also blamed other managers at the bank for its collapse. Still, he pledged to help recoup money, and officials say he is cooperating with their efforts to collect restitution.
"These clients that are here today, and those who are not here, it's important for them to understand I'm trying my best to help them get their money back," Price said in court.
Michael Smith invested $894,000 of his retirement savings with Price, and all of it was lost. He was not optimistic he would have any of it returned.
"I don't think we'll ever see a dime, but I think it's appropriate," Smith said of the sentence.
At his plea hearing June 5, Price told the 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.
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 Price gave authorities when he was arrested. Florida investigators suspect he also may have been growing marijuana.
The plea agreement settled federal charges pending against Price in Georgia and New York. Prosecutors agreed to drop 16 related bank fraud counts in Georgia plus charges in Miami related to the Coast Guard's search for Price.
A federal receiver appointed to recoup money for Price's investors reported July 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.