- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ATLANTA — After penning a rambling letter to financial regulators and writing notes to his family, a southern Georgia bank director boarded a ferry in Key West, Fla., and disappeared.

Now local and federal investigators are trying to determine whether Aubrey Lee Price killed himself, as the lengthy letter - which they’ve described as a confession - would have them believe, or slipped away with $17 million of investors’ money. His family has told authorities they think he’s dead, but federal investigators aren’t so sure and have offered $20,000 for information leading to his arrest.

“My depression and discouragement have driven me to deep anxiety, fear and shame. I am emotionally overwhelmed and incapable of continuing in this life,” says the letter investigators think was written by Mr. Price.

“I created false statements, covered up my losses and deceived and hurt the very people I was trying to help,” the letter says.

The writer apologizes at the beginning of the confession for its “lack of structure, grammar and harmony of thought.”

It includes claims that Mr. Price is solely responsible for the banking losses; apologizes to his clients, associates and partners; claims banking was never his area of expertise and that he got bad advice; levels some blame at regulators and other outside forces; repeatedly mentions stress and anxiety he says he felt for months; and makes many allusions to his apparent intent to kill himself. The confession also denies that any money was stolen, saying it all was lost through bad investments.

Wendy Cross, a client, moved about $300,000 to Mr. Price’s firm after a trusted financial adviser told her it would be a good investment. “He has left a path of financial carnage,” she said.

Members of Mr. Price’s family and several of his associates mentioned in court documents did not return calls seeking comment.

Mr. Price left his home in southern Georgia on June 16, telling his family he was headed to Guatemala for business, said Sgt. Aaron Pritchett of the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating his disappearance. Two days later, Mr. Price’s family received letters saying he was going to Key West to board a ferry headed to Fort Myers, Fla., and planned to jump off somewhere along the way to end his life.

Credit card records show Mr. Price purchased dive weights and a ferry ticket. The ferry ticket was scanned at the boarding point, but that’s where the trail runs cold, Sgt. Pritchett said.

Mr. Price became director of Montgomery Bank & Trust in Ailey, Ga., in December 2010, when a company he controlled bought a controlling portion of the bank’s stock, according to a complaint filed late last month in federal court in New York. Mr. Price then opened brokerage accounts through a securities clearing and custodial firm in New York and told bank managers he would invest in U.S. Treasury securities.

Instead of investing the bank’s money, authorities say Mr. Price wired the funds into accounts he controlled at other financial institutions and provided bank managers with fraudulent documents.

The FBI and federal prosecutors say Mr. Price embezzled $17 million in bank funds. The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a complaint in federal court in Atlanta saying he defrauded investors. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on Friday said it seized Montgomery Bank & Trust.

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