‘Dead’ banker plans plea change

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‘Dead’ banker plans plea change

The story so far:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported on Aubrey Lee Price more than three years ago, when Price led an investor group to save the troubled Montgomery Bank & Trust. In summer 2012, when Price vanished, the AJC wrote a series of stories about his disappearance and the havoc left in his wake. The AJC was there again when Price reappeared New Year’s Eve. AJC reporters have dug through thousands of pages of court filings, property records and other documents and interviewed investors and others impacted by this story.

TIMELINE

* December 2010: Investment group affiliated with Aubrey Lee Price takes majority stake in troubled Montgomery Bank & Trust in Ailey.

* June 2012: Price disappears. His family and some business associates receive letters saying he was responsible for defrauding clients, and authorities say Price informed relatives he planned to jump off a Florida ferry to end his life. A note is found, bearing Price’s name but not his signature, confessing to concealing losses.

* July 2012: Regulators shut down Montgomery Bank, and Price is indicted in Savannah on a federal bank fraud charge. Former clients file complaints for damages from an Atlanta firm where Price once worked.

* January 2013: Justice officials announce a separate indictment in New York charging Price with securities and wire fraud. It alleges Price unsuccessfully invested about $40 million from 115 investors, covering up losses with fake account statements.

* Dec. 31, 2013: Glynn County sheriff’s deputies pulled over a pickup Price was driving near Brunswick. Authorities said they found multiple IDs and later determined Price’s real identity.

* April 2013: Federal prosecutors in South Georgia present a wider indictment with 17 counts of bank fraud. Price pleads not guilty.

* Tuesday: Federal prosecutors say the government and Price have a plea agreement. A change of plea hearing is set for Thursday.

Aubrey Lee Price, the former fugitive bank director who staged his death and was captured after 18 months on the run, is expected to change his not guilty plea later this week.

Price, charged with criminal bank fraud, is at the center of a bizarre financial tale involving lost millions, a South Georgia failed bank, a faked suicide, and his reappearance a year after his wife had him declared dead.

The former preacher and investment adviser also is accused by authorities of growing dope in Florida while on the lam. In a recent Atlanta magazine story, he claimed he spent some of his time on the run as an expert cocaine taster for drug dealers.

A change of plea hearing is scheduled for Thursday in a Statesboro federal court where Price was scheduled for trial on the fraud charges June 23, according to online federal court records.

He previously pleaded not guilty in April to a “superseding indictment” that increased the number of felony bank fraud counts against him from one to 17.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Rafferty said in court Tuesday there is “a plea agreement in place” with Price, according to the Associated Press.

An attorney for Price did not return messages Tuesday. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Savannah declined comment.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 30 years on each count.

Wendy Cross, a former Price investor who lost her retirement savings when Price disappeared, said she hopes for some “finality” to the case.

“I want to be done with this chapter of my life,” she said.

Price, 47, is accused of embezzling more than $21 million from Montgomery Bank & Trust, a small bank in Ailey, about 170 miles southeast of downtown Atlanta. Price and a group of investors from his advisory business had pumped $10 million into the bank to save it in late 2010.

Prosecutors said Price diverted money from bank reserves, and then lost it in speculative trading and other investments. Price separately is accused in a civil case of misappropriating funds from clients in his investment business.

Price disappeared in June 2012, a month before the floundering bank failed. He was seen boarding a ferry in Key West, Fla. and was later declared dead by a Florida court.

In suicide notes sent to family and associates, Price admitted misappropriating money and producing false financial statements in frenzied attempts to make back or obscure heavy losses.

Price was arrested last Dec. 31 near Brunswick, Ga., following a traffic stop for having windows that had too much tint.

Price also faces wire and securities fraud charges in federal court in New York. Last week, a federal grand jury in Key West indicted Price for causing a communication of false distress to the Coast Guard, which searched for Price after his note suggested he’d jumped into the Gulf of Mexico.

In the Atlanta magazine article this month that contained jailhouse interviews and previously unpublished portions of his memoir, Price claimed he lived for part of his time on the run in an unnamed “Latin American country” and worked for drug dealers.

He told a federal probation officer after his capture that he was homeless and lived as a migrant worker. After he was captured, authorities in Florida linked him to a marijuana growing operation.

In February, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Price sent remorseful letters to some of the investors he allegedly bilked.

“I fully accept my penalties and punishment and now live only to work for anything I can get returned for the benefit of clients,” Price said in handwritten letters from the Bulloch County jail.

Kenneth Murena, an attorney for the receivera court-appointed official charged with collecting as much as possible for Price’s investors said a plea agreement by Price could help the effort. Price has sometimes been hesitant to speak for fear of incriminating himself, Murena said.

“It would allow him to talk more,” Murena said.

So far, the receiver has collected $1.8 million in life insurance proceeds, but three insurance companies are trying to get the money back, arguing they should be refunded because Price is alive. In April, the receiver settled with KM Homes for about $1.7 million. The Atlanta homebuilder had not repaid a loan from Price’s investment group. The receiver has also sold properties and collected rents to raise money for investors.

But money also has been spent, including on the receiver’s fees. As of early June, about $2.3 million was available for restitution.

Between the insurance claims and that of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., it is unclear how much investors might get. The receiver continues to negotiate with the FDIC, which took an estimated $75.2 million hit to its deposit insurance fund when Montgomery Bank failed, and is claiming that it should be first in line to receive money.

Price has been cooperating with efforts to boost funds available to investors, including answering questions as part of a lawsuit against threeformer bank officials: former CEO Trae E. Dorough; one-time chairman and well-connected lobbyist Pete Robinson; and CFO Dee Ann McDaniel. All are accused of hiding the poor condition of the bank’s loan portfolio before Price and his clients invested.

A spokesman for attorneys representing the three declined comment.

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