By KELLI KENNEDY, Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Friends of a missing oil tycoon said Monday he'd been spiraling out of control for years, and seemed troubled and confused shortly before he disappeared as he sought treatment for severe bipolar disorder.
New surveillance video from a South Florida port shows 35-year-old Guma Aguiar steering his boat into rough seas less than half an hour after leaving his home. It is the last known image of the man whose boat washed ashore last week without him.
"I just stare at those pictures of him on that boat and can't help but be struck by the symbolism of him on a vessel by himself in rocky seas, fighting a world that he probably felt like was crashing down on him," said Wes Shelton, a close family friend who said Aguiar was troubled in the months before his disappearance.
Aguiar made a fortune in 2006 when the Texas-based energy company he ran with his uncle was sold for a reported $2.5 billion. But he has been locked in a contentious legal battle with his uncle, Thomas Kaplan, over money. A phone call to Kaplan's attorney was not immediately returned Monday.
Meanwhile, his mother, Ellen Aguiar, is fighting for control of his nearly $100 million dollar estate, saying she believes her son may have been in a delusional state or suffering from psychosis, according to court records. She filed an emergency petition while rescuers were still searching for Aguiar's body last week. She amended that petition Monday, instead asking that a bank take control because it is a neutral third party, her attorney Ilene Lieberman said.
Police called off their search Thursday night. There was no blood on the vessel and no evidence of foul play. Police have been reviewing the boat's GPS and Aguiar's cell phone, which was on the boat when it washed ashore with its engines still running Wednesday.
His wife Jamie has declined interview requests. They have four children who range in age from 10 months to 7 years.
Shelton said he knew of no significant emotional triggers just before Aguiar's disappearance but that he'd struggled for years with his mental health. Aguiar had been admitted to psychiatric hospitals several times.
"The lawsuits were taking a major toll on him. Emotionally. Mentally. He was completely spent," said Bob Denison, a 35-year-old yacht broker who met Aguiar in high school.
Aguiar knew nothing of the oil and gas business when the company he started with his uncle while in his mid-20s struck oil.
"That was his compulsion, that was his obsession. He spent morning, noon and night trying to build that company," said Shelton, who also worked at the company for a time.
But even after selling the company, for which he reportedly received more than $200 million, Aguiar struggled to find happiness. He took a Colorado ski trip with friends shortly after the sale. But while everyone else was relaxing, Aguiar was on his computer working.
"He used to ask me all the time, 'help me decompress, help me relax'," Shelton said. "I didn't even know what that meant."
Aguiar donated millions to a foundation that helps Jews move to Israel. Denison said Aguiar also liked to give when no one was looking "reaching out to the guy sleeping on the bus stop, finding a friend a job on the brink of hopelessness."
Aguiar, whose mother is Jewish, was raised Christian but converted to Judaism about a decade ago. He became well-known in Israel after his $4 million investment saved the Israeli Premier League soccer team Beitar Jerusalem a few years ago.
But in Israel, he didn't know who to trust and felt he was only embraced because of his money, friends said.
"He had a lot of hurt and had a lot of regret due to what happened over there," Shelton said, but declined to elaborate.
He pleaded no contest to drug charges in 2009 after deputies said they found marijuana in his Bentley during a traffic stop in South Florida. His family checked him into a psychiatric hospital in Tel Aviv in roughly a year later after he claimed he entered the Gaza Strip and met with an Israeli soldier held there by Hamas militants.
His wife filed a domestic violence order against him last summer. A short time later, he filed for dissolution of marriage, but both were voluntarily dismissed, according to court documents.
Life seemed to be turning around this year, according to friends. Aguiar was seeking treatment for bipolar disorder and was spending more time with his family, fishing and attending soccer games. Not long before his disappearance, the family vacationed in the Florida Keys. Friends said Jamie Aguiar desperately tried to create a peaceful home life for her husband and wasn't interested in big houses or cars. They married in 2006 before he made his fortune.
"That was all Jamie wanted for him," said Shelton. "I think Jamie was really hopeful that the old Guma would come back."
Still, friends sensed that Aguiar wasn't at peace.
"He wasn't doing well. Guma was deeply burdened by the lawsuits he was fighting.
I don't think I've ever heard him so confused," Denison said of his last conversation with Aguiar a few weeks ago.