Missing Millionaire May Have Staged Disappearance, Lawyer Says

Guma Aguiar's wife and mother battle over missing man's $100 million fortune.

June 29, 2012, 9:28 AM

June 29, 2012 — -- 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."

Lawyer for Millionaire's Wife Wonders If Disappearance Staged

Ellen Aguiar said she knew her son was distraught when he got on the boat, but she did not know what happened to him after he went to sea.

"The whole thing that surrounds this disappearance I find very suspicious and I just pray for the best," she said.

Richard Baron, Ellen Aguiar's attorney, has maintained that it was clear that Guma Aguiar did not want his wife to have control of his assets.

"The fact that the Absentee revoked Jamie's designation as his pre-need guardian and substituted his mother in May of this year (2012) further supports the conclusion that the Absentee does not want Jamie Aguiar handling his assets," Baron wrote in a legal filing on behalf of Ellen Aguiar.

A handwritten note on a 2011 legal filing obtained by ABCNews.com showed that Guma Aguiar objected to the appointment of his wife "to serve in any capacity" over his person or property.

"It's a family tragedy," Baron said. "As each day dwindles on, the hope of his being recovered is lessened. I think the reality may set in that Guma is not coming back."

When asked if she believed her son was still alive, Ellen Aguiar said, "I feel that he's at peace and I'm not giving up hope until I know for sure."

Ellen Aguiar has said that her son was emotional when he got on his boat because his wife had asked for a divorce, just hours before his disappearance.

Jamie Aguiar's attorney rejected the claim and said the couple wrote love notes, emails or texts to each other often and as recently as the day he disappeared.

Though the search for Aguiar has been called off, authorities say he is still considered a missing person and they are still investigating his disappearance. They are also trying to extract information from Aguiar's cell phone and the GPS on his boat, which Scherer said in court seems to indicate that Aguiar made several unusual turns on the boat before it drifted back to shore.

The devoutly Jewish Aguiar is known for being the main sponsor for an elite Israeli soccer team and making multi-million dollar charitable gifts to Jewish organizations. He has also had a number of personal transgressions.

He has been arrested several times, including for drug possession and driving under the influence, according to court records. He is also currently on probation after pleading no contest to domestic violence charges.

In 2010, he was involuntarily admitted to an Israeli psychiatric hospital after his erratic behavior.

Aguiar made his fortune in 2006 when he and his uncle Thomas Kaplan sold their Texas-based energy company for a reported $2.5 billion. The two have been in a messy legal battle since 2009 over the division of the money.

In 2011, he was appointed an emergency guardian after his wife and mother petitioned a Miami-Dade judge for one.

The couple has four children, the youngest of whom is 10 months old. They also have a 3-year-old son, a 4-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son.

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