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Oil tycoon vanishes during Florida boat trip

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[June 23, 2012]  FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -- When an oil tycoon's fishing boat washed ashore near Fort Lauderdale this week, the lights were on and the engines were running, but the owner was nowhere to be found.

After a two-day search, authorities suspended the hunt for Guma Aguiar, a millionaire known for his philanthropy and sometimes erratic behavior. He struggled with mental illness exacerbated by court battles with family members over his vast fortune.

His disappearance has puzzled both his family and authorities.

Surveillance video showed him talking on the phone Tuesday night outside his $5 million waterfront home, grabbing what appears to be a pair of shorts and getting into the boat alone. Seas were rough, though, and police questioned why an experienced boater such as Aguiar would venture out in undesirable conditions.

His wallet and cellphone were still on the 31-foot boat when it was discovered beached Wednesday morning about three miles from the home he shares with his wife and four children. There was no blood or signs of a struggle on the vessel, police said.

Authorities were working with the Coast Guard to analyze the boat's GPS and sifting through Aguiar's cellphone records to see if any calls were made before the boat ran aground. The search over land and water covered a combined area roughly the size of Rhode Island.

"Anything is possible. At this point it's still way too early in the investigation to jump to any conclusions," Fort Lauderdale Police Detective Travis Mandell said.

His wife told police she was worried for his safety after she came home Tuesday night and learned from the nanny that he had gone boating, but police wouldn't elaborate on why she was concerned.

Meanwhile, his mother, Ellen Aguiar, on Thursday filed to become guardian of his more than $75 million fortune, which includes $35 million in Israeli real estate, $15 million in cash, a $2 million yacht and seven cars worth more than $1 million.

Aguiar suffers from severe bipolar disorder and "may be in a delusion state or be suffering from psychosis or otherwise may have disappeared at sea," according to court documents.

On Friday, the shades were drawn at Aguiar's property and no one answered the door. His wife declined comment through a family spokesman, and his mother's phone had been temporarily disconnected. Friends declined to talk on the record to The Associated Press.

Aguiar made a fortune in 2006 when the Texas-based energy company he ran with his uncle was sold for a reported $2.5 billion. But he has been locked in a contentious legal battle with his uncle over money.

His wife's attorneys said they were horrified by Ellen Aguiar's attempts to gain control of the estate, saying it has only added to the family's stress.

"She files motions in courts trying to take over everything while the divers are still out looking for Guma's body," said attorney Bill Scherer. "It's bizarre."

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He planned to respond her motion, but said everything is premature right now.

Scherer said the past year was especially difficult for Jamie Aguiar, who was pregnant while her husband was hospitalized for mental illness. He moved back into the house after he was released several months ago and has been more emotionally stable since then, Scherer said.

"She's hoping that he's had another mental breakdown and that he's out there somewhere and will come walking back when he gets himself stabilized," he said.

Family members said the legal battles had taken an emotional toll on Aguiar in recent years. His family checked him into a psychiatric hospital in Tel Aviv in 2010 after claiming he entered the Gaza Strip and met with an Israeli soldier held there by Hamas militants. Aguiar's family said at the time he'd been under "intensive emotional pressures" and "psychological terrorism," because of the lawsuit.

There were other signs of trouble at home.

His wife filed a domestic violence order against him last summer. A short time later, he filed for dissolution of marriage, but both were voluntarily dismissed, according to court documents. Around that same time, his wife and mother successfully petitioned a Miami-Dade County judge to appoint an emergency guardian for him for 90 days.

In 2009, he pleaded no contest to drug charges after deputies said they found marijuana in his Bentley during a traffic stop.

Aguiar has given millions to Israeli and Jewish causes. While he was raised Christian, his mother is Jewish, and he converted to Judaism about a decade ago.

He has said he plans to rebuild the biblical Jewish temple in Jerusalem and has donated millions to a foundation that helps Jews move to Israel. In Fort Lauderdale, Chabad Lubavitch, a traditional Hasidic group, named their family campus after him.

Aguiar has been a well-known fixture in Israel since his $4 million investment saved the Israeli Premier League soccer team Beitar Jerusalem a few years ago.

[Associated Press; By KELLI KENNEDY]

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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