Judge Settles Biggest Fishing Scandal Ever, $2.8 Million Prize Money Now Changing Hands
The 2016 White Marlin Open is a scandal that’s been unfolding for almost a year. I covered this story several times over the past 11 months, most recently on Monday when the prosecution and defense rested after laying out their cases of who should get the $2.8 million in prize money. A Federal Judge had until yesterday to make a ruling, and that ruling came through yesterday afternoon.
Capt. Philip Heasley and the crew of the Kallianassa Fishing Team were previously named winners of the 2016 White Marlin Open after catching the only white marlin landed by any team fishing in the tournament. However, the Judge has ruled against Philip Heasley and they will no longer take home the $2.8 million in prize money for catching the only white marlin (de facto the largest white marlin), and the fish with the highest point value in the entire tournament.
After the federal Judge made his ruling yesterday, the White Marlin Open released this statement on their official Facebook Page:
After a two-week trial in United States District Court for the District of Maryland, the Honorable Richard D. Bennett has ruled that the White Marlin Open properly applied the rules of the tournament to the 2016 White Marlin Open. Philip Heasley, one of the anglers in the 2016 Tournament, and his crew members aboard the Kallianassa, had not passed polygraph examinations, which were required under the rules of the tournament. The Court also found that Mr. Heasley and the crew of the Kallianassa violated the Tournament Rules by deploying fishing lines before 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 9, 2016, the date they caught the 76.5 pound white marlin.
As a result of the polygraph examination results, White Marlin Open did not pay the prize money of Two Million Eight Hundred Eighteen Thousand Dollars ($2,818, 000.00) to Mr. Heasley. Instead, to protect the integrity of the tournament and to act in fairness to all participants, White Marlin Open filed an interpleader action in court and asked the Court to determine whether the White Marlin Open directors had acted appropriately in withholding the money from Mr. Heasley.
In a two-week trial, White Marlin Open put on evidence of the appropriateness of the polygraph examinations, and the reasonableness of its actions in withholding the prize money under the tournament rules. The court verified that White Marlin Open, Inc., had applied its rules in a fair manner, had the authority to impose the polygraph upon its participants as a way to verify that rules of the tournament were not violated by the winning anglers.
Throughout the case, the intention of the White Marlin Open directors has been to protect the integrity of the tournament and to ensure that the rules are applied fairly for all participants. The White Marlin Open, like many other tournaments, has found that the use of polygraphs is an effective method of ensuring compliance with the rules. The White Marlin Open is pleased that its reputation for integrity, built over its forty-three-year history, has been upheld.
As the 2017 tournament approaches, the tournament directors are determined to continue the fair and impartial application of the tournament rules so that all participants have confidence in the results of the tournament. The tournament directors are committed to maintaining the tournament as an open and enjoyable experience for all anglers, whether professional or amateur, who participate in this world recognized event. (via Facebook)
Chris Sullivan, the attorney for Philip Heasley, the man who lost out on the $2.8 million prize money released this statement:
“We are obviously disappointed by today’s ruling,” “We maintain that Mr. Heasley and his crew abided by all of the tournament rules and regulations. We are discouraged that the court did not credit the evidence that we provided during the trial. We are reviewing the decision and are considering our options.”
This was the largest prize pool in tournament fishing history, and it has taken a year for officials to figure out the rightful winner of that money. Here’s a brief primer on the scandal from my article earlier this week:
There were accusations of cheating which led to polygraph tests for all three men onboard the winning boat, and they failed those polygraph tests. The question each member of the crew failed was regarding whether or not anyone helped Phillip Heasley catch the fish. Tournament rules dictate that only one man/angler can handle the fishing rod while reeling in a fish during the tournament.
After they failed the polygraph tests they pushed for the case to be handed over to the courts, and from there it was passed to a federal judge. With Nearly three million dollars on the line, this has been taken VERY seriously. The judge heard testimonies over the course of last week, and now has until Wednesday of this week to make a ruling.
So which rule was allegedly broken that might cause the Florida fishermen to forfeit $2.8 million in winnings that would then pass to a fishing crew from New Jersey? The prosecution argues that the crew began fishing too early. Tournament rules dictated that lines couldn’t enter the water until 8:30 a.m. and the official catch report filed by Phillip Heasley’s fishing team lists that the white marlin was caught at 9:05 a.m. But, someone allegedly erased 8:15 am and rewrote 9:05 am on the card. However, Heasley argues that the fish was caught at 9:15 am, and it was a tournament official entering the data who made the mistake and not anyone on his crew, thus denying any wrongdoing.
Lawyers representing Philip Heasley used GPS data from the boat in an attempt to show that they did not start fishing until after 8:30 a.m., but that apparently wasn’t enough to convince the judge that Phillip Heasley and his crew didn’t cheat.
Of the $2.8 million prize pool, $2.5 million will go to New Jersey-based Lacey boat captain Damien Romeo who caught a 260-pound hammerhead shark, and the additional $500,000 will be split up amongst other fishing category winners.
For more on this story, you can visit my previous White Marlin Open articles.