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Georgia banker who faked death pleads guilty to fraud

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A former Georgia bank director, who left a suicide note before vanishing for more than a year while under suspicion of embezzling $21 million, faces up to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty on Thursday to U.S. fraud charges.

Aubrey Lee Price, 47, resolved federal cases out of Georgia and New York by admitting to bank, securities and wire fraud charges, and could be ordered to pay millions in restitution and fines, prosecutors said.

No date has been set for sentencing, said James Durham, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Savannah.

Price's attorney Joshua Lowther did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the plea.

Price, 47, previously controlled an investment group that put $10 million into Montgomery Bank & Trust, a small bank in Ailey, Georgia, according to the federal indictment.

After being named a bank director, he fraudulently obtained more than $21 million of bank funds, which he then "misappropriated, embezzled and lost in speculative trading and other investing," according to his indictment.

In an effort to hide the fraud, Price provided bank officials with fabricated account statements, the indictment said. Regulators later shut down the bank's two branches.

Price was also indicted in New York on federal securities and wire fraud charges connected to the scheme.

He disappeared soon before his indictment in Georgia on one count of bank fraud in July 2012, leaving behind a written confession and a note for family and friends saying he planned to kill himself, authorities said.

Investigators at the time speculated that he either committed suicide or fled to Venezuela.

Sheriff's deputies caught up with Price on Dec. 31 of last year, when they arrested him during a traffic stop after noticing the windows of his Dodge pickup appeared to be tinted too darkly to comply with Georgia state law.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins, editing by G Crosse)

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