The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

January 23, 2014

How a living fugitive was declared dead

ATLANTA — Eighty-one days after Aubrey Lee Price allegedly jumped from a ferry into the Gulf of Mexico, his wife asked a Florida court to declare him dead.

Price was being sought by the FBI, which issued an arrest warrant after he disappeared.

But authorities, who wanted him in connection with an alleged fraud that led to the failure of a small Georgia bank and cost investors millions, had no evidence that Price was still alive.

He had not used his cellphone or credit cards since he vanished June 16, 2012. And he left behind a series of detailed suicide notes, including one that told his family what to do once his body was found.

So on Dec. 31, 2012, the Florida court agreed with Price’s wife: He was presumed to have drowned at sea.

There was only one problem. Price wasn’t dead.

A year to the day after a judge OK’d his death certificate, the disgraced banker was pulled over in Brunswick in a dented Dodge pickup for having windows that were too dark. His death certificate was vacated a week later, at his wife’s request.

Price, a former Baptist preacher, pleaded not guilty to a federal charge that he misappropriated more than $21 million from Ailey-based Montgomery Bank & Trust after he became a bank director in December 2010. He’s also accused of defrauding about 150 clients in his investment businesses.

Few people are declared dead, only to be found alive. The Social Security Administration does not track numbers, a spokeswoman said, but “this type of situation is rare.” In Georgia, a spokeswoman with Vital Records estimated there have been five instances or fewer since 2007.

Though Price was dead in the eyes of the state, there were many who never thought he killed himself.

His disappearance was “a little too perfectly choreographed,” FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Doug Leff said in an interview in 2012. The evidence collected at the time gave the FBI “a pretty high indication and a likelihood that the suicide was a ruse and he is out there somewhere,” he said.

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