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Prosecutor: Plea deal reached with banker who vanished after losing millions in investor cash

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STATESBORO, Ga. - 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.

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.

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.

"We have a plea agreement in place," said Brian Rafferty, an assistant U.S. attorney who's the lead prosecutor on the case.

Price's defence attorney, Joshua Lowther, declined to comment. Price previously pleaded not guilty.

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.

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.

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.

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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