Presumed dead banker busted in traffic stop
by W. Winston Skinner
Some people thought Aubrey Lee Price was dead, a shamed corrupt banker who committed suicide.
A year ago, a Florida judge declared Price dead. Others envisioned Price sunning on the beach of some South American country with no U.S. extradition treaty.
On New Year’s Eve, Price, 47, turned up on Interstate 95 in Georgia’s Glynn County, very much alive. The clean cut corporate banker who disappeared in June 2012 now has long hair and a beard.
Price is believed to have taken some $17 million of investors’ money from a south Georgia bank — a bank once deemed a miracle of survival in the midst of the national banking crisis. Price’s actions touched many lives — including people who invested in the bank and former Newnan banker Trae D. Dorough, who was hired to serve as president of Montgomery Bank & Trust while Price was a director there.
Dorough did not respond to a request for an interview on Thursday. Contacted when Price disappeared in 2012, Dorough said he had been advised “not to comment” on the circumstances surrounding the closure of the south Georgia bank.
A U.S. marshal told a judge that Price was homeless before his arrest. Price appeared before a federal judge in Brunswick on Thursday. He was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop on the interstate that runs along the coast from Miami to New England.
Price reportedly told authorities he had been working as a migrant worker and accepting cash for odd jobs. Price had disappeared in June 2012 after sending a rambling letter to his family and acquaintances saying he had lost millions of investors' dollars and planned to kill himself.
Prosecutors say Price raised $40 million from investors, and lost much of the money. An FBI spokesman told Associated Press that Price told law enforcement his family did not know he was alive and that he returned to Georgia Tuesday to renew the tag on his truck.
Price had raised the millions from about 115 investors, mostly in Georgia and Florida, through the sale of membership interests in his investment firm. Authorities believe Price slipped away with up to $17 million of investors' money.
He has been indicted in federal courts in New York and Georgia, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a complaint against him in federal court in Atlanta.
FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett said in an email Tuesday that he did not know whether Price's wife and children had known that he was still alive.
His family had previously told investigators they believed Price was dead. Associated Press reported attempts to contact his wife in Valdosta were unsuccessful.
Price left his home in south Georgia on June 16, 2012 — telling his family he was headed to Guatemala for business. Two days later, Price's family and acquaintances received letters saying he was going to Key West to board a ferry headed to Ft. Myers and planned to jump off somewhere along the way to end his life.
"My depression and discouragement have driven me to deep anxiety, fear and shame. I am emotionally overwhelmed and incapable of continuing in this life," said a rambling confession letter investigators believe was written by Price. "I created false statements, covered up my losses and deceived and hurt the very people I was trying to help.”
Credit card records showed Price purchased dive weights and a ferry ticket. The ferry ticket was scanned at the boarding point, and security camera footage released by the FBI about six weeks after his disappearance showed Price at the Key West, Fla., airport and ferry terminal on the day he disappeared.
Price owned real estate in Venezuela and had told people he frequently went there and to Guatemala. The FBI said in February that investigators had accounted for all the vehicles Price owned, except for a 17-foot fiberglass boat. The agency said at the time that it was possible Price had used the boat to flee and that he might still be using it.
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 in June 2012 in federal court in New York. 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 Price wired the funds into accounts he controlled at other financial institutions and provided bank managers with fraudulent documents.
Price lived with his wife and children in Bradenton, Fla., but bought a home in Valdosta in the months before his disappearance, according to authorities. Price had moved his family to the south Georgia city, where his wife's parents lived, just a few weeks before he disappeared.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation seized Montgomery Bank & Trust on July 6, 2012. The bank, which had two branches when it was closed, had about $173.6 million in assets and $164.4 million in deposits as of March 31.
Ameris Bank of Moultrie agreed to take over the failed bank’s deposits and purchase $12.4 million of its assets. Regulators estimated the Ailey bank’s failure would cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation $75.2 million.
The MB&T closing was shocking — because of Price’s disappearance and because of the hoopla a year earlier when it appeared the small-town bank had garnered major community support and would survive the financial crisis that doomed many other small banks with large portfolios of failed real estate loans.
Montgomery County Bankshares, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Montgomery Bank & Trust, announced the completion of a successful capital raise on Dec. 31, 2010.
Montgomery County Bankshares, Inc. raised approximately $14.1 million through the combination of a sale of common stock to PFGBI, LLC, a newly-created bank holding company comprised of individual investors, and a private placement to other investors in the Montgomery County area. Price was a general partner in PFGBI.
As a result of the transaction, PFGBI acquired a controlling interest in Montgomery County Bankshares, Inc.
PFGBI also received a warrant to purchase additional shares of common stock as part of its investment. At the time, it was stated almost all proceeds would be going to Montgomery Bank & Trust — significantly increasing the bank’s capital.
Dorough, then the bank’s president, said in 2010, “We are very pleased by the successful capital raise, and we are happy for our customers, as well as the communities of Ailey and Vidalia. … We welcome our new investors into our banking family and are very appreciative of the support demonstrated by the investors in our local community.”
“We are excited about the opportunity this investment presents us,” Price said at the time of the “turnaround” announcement. “We look forward to working with the bank to manage its non-performing assets and return to profitability as soon as possible.”
After the MB&T failure, Dorough told WTOC-TV in Savannah that bank officials were cooperating fully with regulators and other authorities.
Dorough had earlier lived in Sharpsburg and served as president of First Coweta Bank, when it was closed by the FDIC in August 2009. United Bank bought First Coweta’s assets and still has an office in the old First Coweta location on Bullsboro Drive.
Dorough joined the staff of First Coweta Bank on Aug. 28, 2008, as executive vice president and senior lender.
He was named president of the bank on Dec. 4 of that year — succeeding Mike Barber, who played a key role in the organization of First Coweta and continues to play an active role in business and civic life in Newnan.
Dorough had previously worked with SouthCrest Financial Group in Fayetteville. SouthCrest has banks in Fayette, Fulton, Meriwether and Upson counties. Dorough also had been group vice president for SouthTrust Bank before coming to work at First Coweta.
Dorough has continued his career in banking and is executive vice president of Touchmark National Bank in Alpharetta. He joined the staff of Touchmark in August 2012 as senior vice president and chief lending officer. He was promoted to his current position in July.
Dorough holds a bachelor of business administration degree from Georgia Southwestern University in Americus and is a graduate of Stonier Graduate School of Banking at University of Pennsylvania. He has more than 25 years in banking and serves on the board of the Community Bankers Association of Georgia.
With regard to Price, his former boss, the courts will eventually have their say on his future. Associated Press reported it is not clear where Price has been for the past 18 months.