One Way Out: Millionaire Guma Aguiar Disappeared Off Fort Lauderdale Beach; Where Could He Have Gone? | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


One Way Out: Millionaire Guma Aguiar Disappeared Off Fort Lauderdale Beach; Where Could He Have Gone?

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Aguiar showed up on the doorstep of Chabad Lubavitch of Fort Lauderdale, an Orthodox synagogue near the beach, shortly after his grandmother died in 2002. Chabad Lubavitch is a branch of Hasidic Judaism that follows a series of "rebbes," or spiritual elders — something of an unusual choice for a Jew just starting to worship. He told the rabbi, Moishe Meir Lipszyc, he wanted to pray in his grandmother's memory and learn about his own Jewish background.

After the Friday-night service, Lipszyc invited Aguiar and two friends to Sabbath dinner at his house. Together they took the 15-minute walk there, because the rabbi couldn't drive on the holy day. Over dinner, they talked about the Bible. "Guma is a bloody genius," Lipszyc says. "He knew the New Testament better than I knew the Old Testament."

Aguiar returned to the synagogue in the following weeks. The rabbi says he wanted to know what kind of real guidance the Jewish religion provided, outside of temple services and special meals. The rabbi told him not to worry.

"The Jewish religion is 24 hours a day," he remembers telling Aguiar. "The Bible says that you should go to sleep on your left side and wake up on your right side."

Aguiar told Lipszyc of his growing business partnership with his uncle and said the two were looking for investment opportunities. The rabbi could tell that Aguiar was poised to make it big. This made it even more remarkable to him that the man was in his temple, looking for direction before worldly success. "Coming from poor and hitting it rich, you do not usually make a stop by God in the middle," the rabbi says.

Aguiar stayed faithful to his newfound Jewish God as he set out to make his fortune — just as he would, years later, when he ventured alone into the Atlantic Ocean.

Buried deep beneath the Texas prairies about halfway between Houston and Dallas, an ancient riverbed runs to the edge of a limestone shelf. Millions of years ago, when the river flowed on the earth's surface, its force drove sand over the edge of the cliff, to pile up in large deposits. By 2003, the layers of earth above the riverbed had already been drilled for natural gas with limited success. But the deeper deposits, called Deep Bossier sand, were largely unexplored.

John Amoruso, a former president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, had begun researching possible oil and gas reserves on his own. He had a pretty good idea there would be loads of natural gas trapped in that high-pressure pileup. It was a long shot, a "frontier play," and to test his theory, he would need someone with a lot of money and a tolerance for risk.

Amoruso was looking over some drilling logs one day at the Gulf Coast Geological Library in downtown Houston. He ran into an old associate who wanted to introduce him to someone interested in investing in "wildcat," or unproven, drilling ventures. The associate gestured to the corner, where Aguiar was looking at some maps.

Aguiar had come down to Houston as a representative for his uncle. Kaplan was convinced the world would face shortages of fossil fuels and wanted to tap the market by drilling for undiscovered reserves. So he sent Aguiar down as his "eyes and ears," scouting opportunities.

"I packed up my truck, moved down to Houston, drove out West, got an apartment at Eldridge and Westheimer, and started looking for projects," Aguiar told the Houston Chronicle in 2006.

A few weeks after the introduction in the library, Aguiar showed up at Amoruso's office. Amoruso explained his bid for the Deep Bossier in more detail, and Aguiar seemed to understand every word. "He was a down-to-earth fellow and a quick study," Amoruso recalls. "What we told him, he grasped and understood."

Aguiar called his uncle and told him what he had found. It was exactly what Kaplan had been looking for. Soon, the uncle-and-nephew team were buying land in Robertson County, amassing around 30,000 acres through a new company named Leor Exploration. Kaplan owned it; Aguiar was its CEO, earning a salary. The speculation went into high gear when they got wind of a deep-pocketed competitor, Burlington Resources, buying land in the same area. That drove land values way up. A Canadian drilling company called EnCana offered to invest in return for a share of the company.

In 2005, Aguiar married Jamie. They already had one child, Jacob, born in January of that year. Although they had known each other since high school and had dated for five years, they still signed a prenuptial agreement, which listed Jamie as having assets of $16,500 and Guma as having $3.5 million, mostly in cash, stocks, and a Fort Lauderdale house. Later, when their marriage faltered, Jamie would accuse Guma of having hidden from her the fortune he was about to make from Leor. The prenup made no mention of the windfall that would follow.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph

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