With cloudy skies overhead, Brazilian-American multimillionaire Guma Aguiar stepped onto his 31-foot fishing boat Zion in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on June 19 and set sail. The next day the Zion drifted ashore, its light and engine still on, but its owner missing. In the two months that followed, the unexplained disappearance of the 35-year-old energy tycoon sparked a ferocious battle in Florida courts, with Aguiar’s wife and mother moving separately to gain control of his estimated $100 million fortune.
What happened out there on the high seas remains a mystery. If Aguiar died, was it accidental or deliberate? Or was it, in fact, an elaborate ruse, as some have speculated? Did he fake his own death to escape mounting legal trouble and financial losses?
Interviews with a half dozen of his close friends and advisers, including several who had never spoken publicly about the case, offer new clues into Aguiar’s state of mind leading up to that fateful day and undermine the theory that he’s hiding out in some remote locale. Their stories paint a picture of a bullish, athletic self-starter, someone who wasn’t one to run from trouble and who had big plans to use his wealth to change the world. But they also show someone who was chased by a terrible darkness, prone to fits of depression and extreme, unpredictable behavior that may have figured in an untimely death.
“If he had just been left alone, he would have been able to complete some of his plans,” said Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Aguiar’s friend and legal adviser. Dershowitz says the tycoon, who had recently begun exploring his Jewish roots, wanted to use his influence as an investor in two big Israeli sports franchises to promote peace in the Middle East. At the time of his disappearance, he was also working on plans to build a giant center of Hasidic Judaism in the heart of Jerusalem.
The detective heading up the missing-person case in Florida declined to comment to The Daily Beast, but a spokesman for the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department said that while the investigation into Aguiar’s whereabouts remains open, there have been no significant leads in the case. With Aguiar’s wealth and connections, “it would be quite easy for him to stage his own disappearance, and it would be very difficult for us to find him,” Ft. Lauderdale police detective Travis Mandell said last month.
...Starting in 2009, Aguiar also began fostering close ties to Chabad-Lubavitch, one of the largest sects of Hasidic Judaism, at the group’s centers in Brooklyn, Ft. Lauderdale, and Jerusalem. He donated generously to local Chabad centers. In 2009 alone, Aguiar gave half a million dollars toward Chabad-sponsored Passover seders around the world and another $770,000 to finance Chanukah celebrations. He also paid for 200 members of the Florida Chabad community to fly to Queens, N.Y., for a religious gathering. But his biggest project by far was a plan to build an extensive new headquarters for the sect in Jerusalem at Aguiar’s property. In a promotional video, the ruddy Aguiar discusses plans for the Chabad cultural center, which was to be called 770 Western Parkway—a homage to Chabad-Lubavitch’s world headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
Sholom Lipskar, a Hasidic rabbi from Bal Harbour, Fla., said that in the heady afterglow of his success with Leor, Aguiar went to religion for a sense of stability. When Aguiar came to see him, they would rarely discuss his family, business interests, or legal struggles. Aguiar was more interested in talking about Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the spiritual founder of Chabad-Lubavitch. It was hard not to be moved by Aguiar’s enthusiasm for Judaism, Lipskar said.
“Sometimes he would go into overdrive,” Lipskar said. “Almost like it was a fantasy, but it was real to him. Like 770 Western Parkway.” CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY