STATESBORO, Ga. (AP) — A former Georgia investment adviser pleaded guilty Thursday to three counts of fraud to end a two-year criminal case in which he vanished while under suspicion for losing millions in investors’ money and was declared dead before being captured alive in a routine traffic stop.
Under a deal with prosecutors, Aubrey Lee Price, 47, entered his pleas before a U.S. District Court judge less than three weeks before he was scheduled to stand trial on 17 counts of bank fraud. He will be sentenced at a later date.
The deal – with guilty pleas on bank, wire and securities fraud – calls for a maximum of 30 years in prison and payment of $51 million in restitution for bank and investor money that was lost.
“I genuinely and humbly accept responsibility for my unlawful behavior and criminal conduct,” Price, of Valdosta, said in court.
Prosecutors say Price misspent, embezzled and lost millions and faked financial documents to try to cover his tracks before he went missing in June 2012. He sent letters to his family and acquaintances saying he was “incapable of continuing in this life” and other strong hints that he planned suicide. The Montgomery Bank & Trust, a rural southeast Georgia bank at which Price served as a director since 2010, closed a few weeks after he vanished. Its assets and reserves were depleted.
A Florida judge declared Price dead in December 2012. A year later, he was apprehended near Brunswick after a sheriff’s deputy pulled over Price’s truck on Interstate 95 because its tinted windows appeared too dark. Since then he has been jailed in Statesboro awaiting resolution of the case.
Price moved his wife and children from Bradenton, Florida, to Valdosta in south Georgia just a few weeks before he disappeared. Letters Price sent afterward said he was going to Key West, Florida, to board a ferry and planned to jump off and drown. Price was declared dead at his wife’s request about six months later.
In the rambling letter he left, Price denied stealing 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.
After Price was arrested at the end of 2013, authorities said he told them he worked odd jobs and performed migrant labor during his stint as a fugitive. Florida investigators suspect he also may have been growing marijuana. Marion County sheriff’s deputies in Ocala, Florida, found 225 pot plants on New Year’s Day at a home where they also discovered ID cards with Price’s photo but a different name.
On Thursday, Price said little about his time on the run other than that he was deeply depressed during those 18 months. He said he smoked marijuana and methamphetamine and tasted cocaine but mostly self-medicated using street purchases of the prescription amphetamine Adderall. He said he hadn’t used drugs since his arrest last December.