Missing Florida millionaire Guma Aguiar could have staged his own disappearance to escape his financial, marital and legal woes, his wife's lawyer suggested to a packed Florida courtroom.
"It's a family tragedy involving a young man who's intelligent and very talented, but has a severe mental illness and those two things have interacted in his life for the last four years and has impacted his wife and four children dramatically," attorney Bill Scherer told ABC News after Thursday evening's hearing. Scherer is representing Aguiar's wife Jamie Aguiar.
"He either committed suicide, fell off the boat and drowned, or staged it," Scherer said. "It's hard to tell at this point…My client does hope and pray that he didn't die."
Aguiar, 35, vanished last Wednesday. His 31-foot fishing boat washed up on a Fort Lauderdale beach with the engine running and lights on, but with no sign of its Brazilian-born owner.
In the days following Aguiar's disappearance, his wife, Jamie, and mother, Ellen, filed a flurry of legal documents fighting for control of his assets, valued at over $100 million.
While Aguiar's wife wanted control, his mother was fighting for control to be handed over to Northern Trust, a wealth management company selected by Aguiar to take care of his assets should anything ever happen to him.
Before Thursday's hearing, two rabbis and a congregant, who made up a committee formed by Aguiar as a group of advisers, kicked into place a legal mechanism that gave Northern Trust control of the assets. The court agreed to it.
During the bitterly fought court hearing, Scherer accused Aguiar's mother Ellen Aguiar of always being "an enabler of Guma's irrationality," and said she rode on her son's "gravy train" of wealth.
When asked if Jamie Aguiar believes that her mother-in-law knows Guma Aguiar may be alive and staged his own disappearance to protect his assets, Scherer said, "She hopes that that's so, that her children's father will come back to them, that the good Guma will come back, not that he jumped out of that boat when it was three miles out."
"She wants him to be still alive, obviously," Scherer said. "It's probably in her better financial interest if he's not, but that's not what she wants."
Jamie Aguiar wept during the hearing and at one point had to be taken out of the courtoom because she was crying so hard, but her mother-in-law sat stoically by her attorney.
Ellen Aguiar defended her dry-eyed appearance.
"Without the evidence of a body, we are all hoping that Guma will come back. To say I'm not hysterical in court...I haven't eaten for a week," Ellen Aguiar told ABC News outside the courtroom. "This is really my beloved son. It's a horrible situation."
"The attacks on my character and on my son's are devastating at this time," she added. "There is no truth to anything that was said in the courtroom about me. We just want to see him back and we want unity amongst the family."