Late on Tuesday night, a boat belonging to Guma Aguiar washed up on Fort Lauderdale beach, engines running, the cell phone and wallet of the Floridian Jewish multimillionaire reportedly still onboard. Since then, people have speculated: Was it a dead-of-night escape plot to keep his mother from declaring him mentally incompetent, as she'd tried to do in the past, or his uncle from getting the money he made on a Texas oilfield? Was it a hit by the Israeli Mafia? A simple drowning? At this point, nobody knows -- but the first stories brought up his erratic past of clashes with police, high-roller braggadocio, and stints in a mental institution for bipolar disorder just after he claimed, in a 2010 interview, to have personally given sanctuary at his home to captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Much of this is detailed in a January 2010 profile of Aguiar, "Prodigal Son," in Tablet. It was published a day after Aguiar was committed to a mental facility in Tel Aviv, but the main story involved the strict process of converting people to Judaism.
Aguiar was committed in 2010 to a mental facility in Tel Aviv; his family said it was because of the mental anguish he had suffered during years of legal disputes with his uncle, Thomas Kaplan, over the proceeds from a huge Texas oil and gas field that the two had bought and sold.
The two had also become involved with Leib Tropper, a New York-area rabbi who held ultra-Orthodox beliefs. Tropper said that the only person who could allow somebody to convert to Judaism was a rabbi who did not believe that the universe predated the Jewish calendar, according to Tablet. A foundation in memory of Kaplan's deceased mother, administrated by Aguiar from his Fort Lauderdale home, paid millions to Tropper's business venture, supporting his strict beliefs; court filings show that Tropper wanted more. Later, Aguiar moved to Jerusalem and bought a soccer team with his insane wealth from the oilfields.
In December 2009, the New York Post, following a scoop by the Failed Messiah blog, revealed a seamy tape recording of Tropper, Aguiar's beneficiary, trying to get a Houston woman named Shannon Orand to have sex with his buddies in exchange for his blessing of her attempted conversion to Judaism. From the Post:
Tropper, who calls the woman "darling" and "cutie pie," talks about his own love affair with her at one point, saying: "I want to squeeze you."
He also fantasized about rape. "I could role-play a rape with you but I couldn't actually rape you -- you know what I'm saying, darling -- does that make sense?" he asks.
A month later, Aguiar went off to the mental institution, for apparently unrelated reasons. His own notoriety and story -- an evangelical Christian turned playboy Zionist -- attracts rumor and speculation, especially after he's disappeared. With each strange connection he left behind, there's another question about why he vanished. The hunt for Aguiar continues even though the Coast Guard has called off its search. We'll be taking a few more excursions into his past over the coming days.
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