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Saturday May 23rd, 2015 1:50AM

Plea deal awaits Ga. banker who lost clients' $21M

By The Associated Press
STATESBORO, Ga. (AP) - A former southeast Georgia banker accused of embezzling and losing $21 million of investors' money, then vanishing for 18 months before he was arrested in a traffic stop, has agreed to settle his case with a plea deal, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday. <br /> <br /> Aubrey Lee Price, 47, of Valdosta left suicide letters when he went missing in June 2012 and was later declared dead by a Florida judge. His time as a fugitive ended on New Year's Eve when a sheriff's deputy in coastal Georgia pulled over a pickup truck and found Price behind the wheel, alive and well. <br /> <br /> Price has been jailed in Statesboro since then and was scheduled to stand trial June 23 in U.S. District Court on bank fraud charges. But during a pre-trial hearing Tuesday, prosecutors told a judge that Price has agreed to a plea deal. They expect it to be finalized in court Thursday. <br /> <br /> ``We have a plea agreement in place,'' said Brian Rafferty, an assistant U.S. attorney who's the lead prosecutor on the case. <br /> <br /> Price's defense attorney, Joshua Lowther, declined to comment. Price previously pleaded not guilty. <br /> <br /> Prosecutors say Price misspent, embezzled and lost $21 million and faked financial records to try to cover his tracks before he disappeared two years ago. He sent letters to his family and acquaintances saying he was ``incapable of continuing in this life.'' The Montgomery Bank & Trust, a rural southeast Georgia bank at which Price served as a director since 2010, closed a few weeks after Price vanished. Its assets and reserves were depleted. <br /> <br /> Price became a bank director in December 2010 when a company he controlled bought a controlling portion of the bank's stock, according to federal prosecutors. Price then opened brokerage accounts through a firm in New York and told bank managers he would invest in U.S. Treasury securities. <br /> <br /> Instead of investing the bank's money, authorities say Price wired the funds into accounts he controlled at other financial institutions and provided bank managers with fraudulent documents. <br /> <br /> 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.
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