By KATE BRUMBACK — Associated Press
ATLANTA — The lawyer appointed to recover the assets of a south Georgia bank director who disappeared in June says the process is complicated by holdings in Venezuela and the fact that it’s not clear whether he’s still alive.
Melanie Damian has been working since August to untangle a complicated web of property and financial records to recover money for investors left empty-handed when Aubrey Lee Price went missing on June 16.
The FBI and federal prosecutors in New York say Price embezzled $17 million in bank funds after he became a director of Montgomery Bank & Trust in Ailey, Ga. in December 2010. The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a complaint in federal court in Atlanta saying he defrauded investors. A federal grand jury in Georgia has indicted Price on a bank fraud charge, after prosecutors claimed that his actions led to the depletion of the bank’s cash assets and reserves.
Price left his home in south Georgia on June 16, telling his family he was headed to Guatemala for business, authorities have said. Two days later, Price’s family received letters saying he was going to Florida to board a ferry and planned to jump off it along the way to end his life. The FBI has released surveillance videos showing Price at the airport and ferry terminal in Key West the day he disappeared.
A rambling, 22-page letter to financial regulators that authorities believe was written by Price includes several pages that detail some properties and accounts that Price owned or controlled. Most of that information has proved accurate so far, Damian said.
Price’s bank accounts in Venezuela are a notable discrepancy. The letter indicates hundreds of thousands of dollars in those accounts, but current bank statements show that they are nearly empty, Damian said. She’s trying to get past records for those accounts to determine how much money was there and when it was removed. But getting those records and establishing ownership of several farm properties in Venezuela has been tough.
“It’s especially challenging to have the assets in Venezuela,” Damian said. “In addition to being foreign, it’s a difficult government to deal with.”
In addition to the bank accounts, Price’s confession detailed some $2.7 million in property and equipment in Venezuela.
The FBI, which is searching for Price and has offered a reward for information leading to his arrest, says Price has been known to fund, finance and build churches in South America. The agency says he has also done mission work there.
The receivership report filed Friday in federal court in Atlanta also includes a list of nearly 90 creditors in the case. Damian said it’s not clear when she’ll be able to ask the court to begin distributing assets to those creditors
Price’s family members have said they believe he’s dead, but investigators have said circumstantial evidence suggests he’s still alive, though they do not know where he might be.
The receivership has recovered $353,024.09 in cash, according to the report. Damian also has traveled in Georgia, Florida and Venezuela to secure properties owned by Price or the various companies he controlled. Those include: 9 residential properties in Florida; a strip mall in Kingsland, Ga.; 71 acres of hunting or timber land in Lyons, Ga.; and a farm in Venezuela. She’s also made progress toward establishing the estate’s interest in two other farms in Venezuela and another condominium in Florida. The total value of those properties is likely just over $2 million, Damian said.
In addition to the bank accounts and real estate, Damian also has recovered numerous coins from a safe deposit box – nearly 530 John F. Kennedy and Benjamin Franklin half dollar coins from various years, as well as 97 silver dollars. The face value of the coins is $363, but the receiver’s report says the market value is likely to be much higher.
There are also four life insurance policies worth a total of more than $2 million, the report says. Price’s estate is the beneficiary for two of them, and his wife is the beneficiary for the others. Price’s wife has made a claim on one of the policies, the report says, but Price has not been declared dead.
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