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Georgia banker who faked his own death makes plea deal

By David Beasley

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A former Georgia bank director who left a suicide note and vanished for a year and a half while under suspicion of embezzling $21 million has reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors, an official said on Tuesday.

Aubrey Lee Price will enter a guilty plea on Thursday, said James Durham, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Savannah. Durham would not disclose the details of the agreement.

"The plea agreement has been signed, that's all I can say," Durham told Reuters.

Price's attorney, Joshua Lowther of Savannah, declined to comment. In January, Price pleaded not guilty to a fraud charge and was ordered to remain in jail while awaiting trial.

Sheriff's deputies arrested Price, 47, during a traffic stop on Interstate 95 near Brunswick, Georgia, late last year after noticing the windows of his Dodge pickup appeared to be tinted too darkly to comply with state law, Glynn County Sheriff E. Neal Jump said.

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

When he was arrested, he had several identification cards in his truck and failed to say which one correctly identified him, Jump said.

The bank fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Price 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 over $21 million of MB&T funds, which he then misappropriated, embezzled and lost in speculative trading and other investing," the indictment said.

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.

Before his arrest late last year, Price was last seen boarding a ferry in Key West, Florida, in June 2012. Investigators at the time speculated that he either committed suicide or fled to Venezuela.

The FBI put him on the agency's "Most Wanted" list and continued to search for him.

Price's wife believed he was dead and successfully petitioned a court to declare him dead, her attorney, John Holt said.

Shortly after Price's arrest in December, police in Florida discovered more than 200 marijuana plants in the rented home where he had been living.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Cynthia Osterman)

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