Guma Aguiar: Turmoil and depression haunted missing Fort Lauderdale millionaire

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The night multimillionaire Guma Aguiar set out on his 31-foot boat, winds were howling and seas were raging, apt metaphors for his unraveling life — and the storm of litigation left in his wake.

His life was a tumultuous brew of depression and delusion, divorce threats, criminal charges and civil cases with millions at stake. His mother's description: "a wounded spirit."

A college dropout, Aguiar, 35, had amassed outrageous oil riches, which he dispensed with grand panache. The manner in which he went missing was equally striking. An employee reported Aguiar left in the boat tied up outside his $5 million Fort Lauderdale mansion around 7 the evening of June 19.

Winds topped 20 mph and seas kicked to 5 feet. Thunderstorms flickered on the horizon. A small-craft warning was in effect, but unless he checked the weather, Aguiar might not have known; the canal behind his home in the 1500 block of Southeast 10 t h Street was likely unruffled.

Six hours later, Aguiar's center-console fishing boat, companion to his 77-foot yacht Zion, ground ashore near Las Olas Boulevard, lights and ignition on. There was no blood or signs of a struggle, only Aguiar's wallet, cellphone and some clothing.

For two days, by plane, helicopter and boat, the Coast Guard scoured an area the size of Rhode Island before abandoning the search.

Speculation, however, did not abate. Did Aguiar kill himself? Was he knocked overboard by pitching seas? Did he fake his death, and transfer to a waiting vessel? Was such a switch even possible, given the rocky seas?

Or did he simply set out to clear his head, then fall victim to natural tragedy?

The sea may never reveal its secrets, but details of Aguiar's recent troubles have surfaced in court. Two days after his disappearance, his mother Ellen sued for control of his nearly $100 million fortune. His wife Jamie, 33, also filed suit for control.

A probate judge Thursday assigned Northern Trust bank to manage the bulk of Aguiar's U.S. investments, which provides income for the family.

Court documents, along with interviews with family and friends, portray a man whose vast wealth could not shield against his demons, who pursued spiritual panaceas and public approbation, who lashed out at wife and police, and who was twice hospitalized for mental breakdowns.

"He rose to a stature of fame and really doing tremendous things for many, many people, but on a personal level he was troubled," Aguiar's mother told the Sun Sentinel. "He was crying all the time."

Aguiar was born in Rio de Janiero. In Brazilian folklore, "Guma" has two definitions: strong warrior or dancer of joy. "He really lived up to his name," Ellen Aguiar said.

Aguiar's father, Otto, who died in 2006, was an artist who has a painting in Miami Beach City Hall. Though his mother is Jewish, Aguiar's family were born-again Christians.

When he was a year old he moved to Fort Lauderdale, where he later attended Westminster Academy Christian School. In high school, Aguiar met his future wife, the tall, flaxen-haired Jamie Elizabeth Black, who later earned a public relations degree at the University of Florida.

Aguiar enrolled in Clemson University, but dropped out after a year. His mother said he experienced his first psychotic episode at 19. He would later be diagnosed as bipolar.

At 25, Aguiar began studying Judaism. A year later he moved to Houston and immersed himself in the world of oil and gas exploration. "Whatever he was interested in, he studied and became an expert on it," his mother said.

Along with his maternal uncle, Thomas Kaplan, already flush with millions from the mineral and energy business, Aguiar founded Leor Exploration & Production, which discovered huge natural gas reserves in East Texas.

Aguiar and Jamie had the first of their four children — three boys and a girl, now ages 10 months to 7 years — in January 2005. The couple wed that December.

In 2007 Aguiar and Kaplan sold Leor for a staggering $2.55 billion. "People have said what an amazing accomplishment it was that I started a company at 26 from nothing and built it up to be so successful," he said. "When I sold the company I gave credit to God."

Aguiar's flirtation with Judiasm had become a full-blown commitment. The year after Leor's sale, uncle and nephew unleashed lawsuits against each other. Aguiar demanded more money from the sale. Kaplan asserted Aguiar spent millions to support a "claim that he is the Messiah and to promote his messianic mission."

Aguiar denied the claim, telling the Sun Sentinel that if he believed he was the Messiah, he belonged in an institution.

The statement would prove uncannily prescient.

Aguiar's oil fortune was a spigot from which he channeled millions into Israeli charitable

and political causes. He donated $8 million to Nefesh b'Nefesh, an organization to assist Jewish migration to Israel , and was a leading supporter of March of the Living, which promotes Holocaust education.

His philanthropy garnered Aguiar recognition from New York Jewish Week as one of the 36 most influential Jewish leaders under the age of 36.

Aguiar also snapped up $35 million worth of property in Israel, as well as a share of the Hapoel Jerusalem professional basketball team. He was briefly the main sponsor for Beitar Jerusalem, an Israeli soccer team.

That was in 2009, a year that saw growing fissures in Aguiar's mental facade. Stopped by deputies for erratic driving, he admitted smoking marijuana and pleaded no contest to pot possession to avoid jail. He claimed police beat him and made anti-Semitic remarks, which officials strenuously denied.

A year later, he was committed to an Israeli psychiatric ward after claiming he contacted a soldier abducted by Hamas . In 2011, at the behest of his mother and wife, an emergency guardian was appointed for Aguiar and he was briefly hospitalized in Miami.

"Things just really got out of hand," Ellen Aguiar said. "He's had essentially two breakdowns in the last two and a half years."

The mother said she tried unsuccessfully to voluntarily commit Aguiar to a private mental facility.

Aguiar's relations with his wife deteriorated as well. In 2011 he filed, then withdrew, divorce papers. That summer, Jamie Aguiar claimed in court pleadings, he "created a living nightmare" for the family. Among her allegations: Aguiar threatened to "put a bullet" in her father's brain, attempted to bribe a police officer, threatened to blow up the Fort Lauderdale Police Station and leveled verbal threats against his pregnant wife.

His wife also accused him of "extravagant travel and partying, and an extra-marital relationship with an exotic dancer from Russia."

Aguiar was arrested for domestic violence and, after pleading no contest to those charges, was on probation when he disappeared.

The stress mounted. "Guma was like, 'I've had it, you know? I can't deal with it any more,' " his mother said. "He was just crying all the time."

Hours before his fateful boat ride, Ellen Aguiar said her son was "desperate" to resolve the suit with his uncle. He feared his wife was planning a split. "We talked about how he was expecting the divorce filing the next day," she said.

Then he was gone.

"Mr. Aguiar is still considered a missing person," Fort Lauderdale Police spokesman Travis Mandell said.

His mother said, "He wanted peace at really any price."


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