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 10th 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.”