Maps detail millionaire’s wild ride before he vanished

A marine analysis shows that Guma Aguiar, the multimillionaire who disappeared on June 19, steered his boat at high speeds erratically out to sea.

07/11/2012 5:00 AM

07/12/2012 9:07 PM

Guma Aguiar’s last known journey paralleled his own life, gunning through formidable seas like a little boat caught in a big storm.

On the night he vanished, the wealthy industrialist set off in his 31-foot fishing vessel, barreling northeast at speeds in excess of 30 miles per hour, crashing through menacing waves for seven miles before suddenly changing course.

A marine analysis of his GPS, released Thursday, shows that at 7:56 p.m., the boat took an ominous, abrupt turn, and suddenly decelerated to .6 miles per hour. It then traveled at speeds no greater than 3 miles per hour southwest for more than five hours before running aground on the beach in front of Fort Lauderdale’s most famous watering hole, The Elbo Room. Boozy patrons curiously watched the ghostly vessel drifting aimlessly off shore, and a few went down to explore.

Its lights and ignition were on, its throttle was forward, but its engines were still, said Sgt. Steven Novak of Fort Lauderdale police. Aguiar’s wallet, cell phone and flip-flops appeared to be the only thing left of the 35-year-old father of four.

But what his family found most disturbing was the pack of Marlboros on the console. Aguiar rarely went anywhere without them.

“It would have been a better sign if the cigarettes had been gone,” said Aguiar’s mother, Ellen.

The investigation, and the GPS analysis, provided more clues — but still no answers as to what happened to Aguiar, whose fortune is estimated at $100 million. While investigators say they’ve found no sign of foul play, they haven’t ruled out other theories, including that he may have faked his own disappearance to escape his troubled life.

“You ask five different people what they think happened, and you would get five different answers,” said Novak, who has been working the case nearly non-stop since Aguiar vanished.

At the time of his disappearance, his wife, Jamie, was trying to void their prenuptial agreement, and previously had filed a restraining order and threatened to divorce him.

He was also mired in legal battles that had cost him $20 million, was suffering from severe bipolar disorder and his fortune was being swallowed by poor investments and people who often took advantage of his wealth, according to those closest to him.

“With all the evidence, we still are sort of back at the same place. We just don’t know what happened and we don’t know where he is,” Ellen Aguiar said.

The family is worried that Aguiar came unglued, as he had on several previous occasions. He had been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment many times over the years.

“We want to know the events and psychology of whatever it was that led him to go into a storm and drive very quickly, and what the contributing factors were to his state of mind,” his mother said.

A surveillance video shows Aguiar boarding his boat, the T.T. Zion, alone shortly before 7:30. He exited Port Everglades at a quick clip, stirring wakes, and “wave-jumping,” a boat captain who specializes in burials at sea told police.

A small-craft warning had been issued for winds 15 to 20 knots, with thunderstorms and seas up to six feet. Aguiar kept his fishing boat docked behind his Rio Vista waterfront home, next to his 77-foot yacht, the Zion. Aguiar was not an experienced boater and rarely captained his own vessel. He employed a staff captain, but the captain wasn’t working that night, Novak said.

Two miles out, Aguiar activated his GPS, a move that raises questions about the notion that he may have intended to commit suicide.

“If you’re going to kill yourself, would you turn on your GPS?” Novak said.

At 7:29 p.m., after activating his GPS, he accelerated even more, kicking through waves at speeds as high as 31 miles per hour, the maps show.

But at 7:56 p.m., maps show his boat suddenly turned, and his speed dropped to .6 miles per hour, as the T.T. Zion turned west, at a drift-like pace, it continued southward at speeds no more than 3 miles per hour before it grounded.

The tie bar that connects the steering to the boat’s twin outboard engines was broken, disabling one of the two engines. Even with the other engine operable, Novak said it still would have been difficult to steer the boat, especially given the inclement weather. At the time the boat changed course, the ocean depth was about 600 feet.

“At that depth, if he fell overboard, there would be little chance that we would ever find his body because it would sink to the bottom,’’ said Travis Mandell, spokesman for Fort Lauderdale police.

Born in Brazil, Aguiar came to this country as a child with his parents. At the age of 26, he and his uncle, Thomas Kaplan, discovered a vast field in Texas that contained massive quantities of natural gas. They formed a company, Leor Energy, which they later sold for $2.55 billion.

Aguiar got $200 million from the sale, and went on to other projects, including exploring his roots. He divided his time between Florida and Israel, where he invested in basketball and soccer teams and about $40 million in real estate. He was on a first-name basis with former Israeli President Simon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He and his wife, to whom he had been married for six years, lived with their four children in a $5 million mansion at 1500 SE 10th St. Their marriage, however, was shaky, and his mother claims that on the day her son went missing, Jamie Aguiar had told him that she intended to file divorce papers the next day. Jamie Aguiar’s lawyer, William Scherer, has denied any plans for a divorce, saying the couple were working out their problems and loved each other very much. Jamie Aguiar has declined to comment on the advice of her attorney.

Since her husband vanished, Jamie Aguiar has been at war with her mother-in-law over his business operations and investments. Ellen Aguiar says she and her fiancé had been working for her son, trying to streamline his staff and unwieldy operations. Jamie Aguiar wants her mother-in-law out of the picture, claiming that she is responsible for making her son unstable.

At the time of his disappearance, Guma Aguiar was being treated with medications by his doctor, Scott Segal of North Miami, but Ellen Aguiar was trying to convince him to enter a holistic treatment facility.

So far, there has been no credible sightings of Aguiar. His passport hasn’t been used, and authorities say he hasn’t accessed his bank accounts.

Still, Novak said anything is possible.

“Hey, there’s nothing to stop him from getting on a boat and going to Bimini; it’s only 30 minutes away.”

Detectives are asking that anyone with information contact Novak at 954-828-5556.

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