Fish­ing tour­ney asks U.S. judge to wade in

White Marlin Open takes $2.8 mil­lion win­ner to court

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Jes­sica An­der­son

Fish­er­men are known to tell tales. But a fed­eral judge in Bal­ti­more is be­ing asked to de­ter­mine the out­come of the White Marlin Open af­ter or­ga­niz­ers in Ocean City said the man who was ini­tially de­clared the win­ner of a $2.8 mil­lion first prize twice failed a lie-de­tec­tor test.

Billed as “the world’s largest bill­fish tour­na­ment,” the tour­na­ment spans a week in Au­gust and takes place off­shore from Ocean City. There’s no over­sight on the open wa­ter, so those who win $50,000 or more are re­quired by con­test rules to take a poly­graph test.

“There’s no po­lice­man out in the ocean,” said Jim Mot­sko, pres­i­dent of the tour­na­ment. To keep it from be­ing a “free-for-all, we learned real quick, you got to have rules and stick with them.”

The big win­ner of this year’s tour­na­ment, Philip G. Heasley of Naples, Fla., caught the win­ning 76.5-pound white marlin but later failed two poly­graph tests, ac­cord­ing to the court fil­ings.

Heasley was not awarded the prize money, and or­ga­niz­ers are ask­ing a fed­eral judge to grant an “or­der of in­ter­pleader,” which will al­low them to re­dis­tribute the $2.8 mil­lion first prize to 13 com­peti­tors who won other cat­e­gories dur­ing the tour­na­ment.

The com­plaint ac­cuses Heasley of us­ing “coun­ter­mea­sures” dur­ing the poly­graph tests Of­fi­cials with the White Marlin Open have chal­lenged Philip G. Heasley on the cir­cum­stances of his prize-win­ning catch.

and al­leges he was “de­cep­tive” when he re­sponded to ques­tions about whether he vi­o­lated the fish­ing tour­na­ment rules and whether he had been truth­ful in his an­swers to the poly­graph test ques­tions.

Heasley and the three oth­ers aboard the boat Kal­lianassa when the win­ning marlin was caught all failed a poly­graph ex­am­i­na­tion.

The com­plaint says that on the “catch re­port,” where par­tic­i­pants mark down when a fish was caught, it ap­peared the time writ­ten down had been changed from 8:15 a.m. to 9:05 a.m. Had the fish been caught be­fore 8:30 a.m., it would have been a vi­o­la­tion of tour­na­ment rules.

Heasley has de­nied com­mit­ting any vi­o­la­tion and ques­tioned the va­lid­ity of the poly­graph tests, ac­cord­ing to court fil­ings. He has also noted that he was pre­sented a first-place tro­phy and check at the awards cer­e­mony held the Satur­day af­ter the week­long event, iden­ti­fy­ing him as the right­ful win­ner.

As to the in­cor­rect time on the catch re­port, his at­tor­neys wrote that it was an er­ror and was changed to “re­flect the cor­rect time that the win­ning white marlin was caught.”

Heasley did not re­spond for re­quests for com­ment.

In ad­di­tion to Heasley, 13 other an­glers who com­peted in the tour­na­ment are named in the fil­ing be­cause they could re­ceive ad­di­tional money if a judge rules against Heasley.

Richard Kosz­tyu of New Jersey, could re­ceive an ad­di­tional $2,312,152, Jim Con­way of Glen Burnie could get $254,620, and Mark Hutchi­son of Tal­bot County could get $140,509. They did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Two other men would stand to earn nearly $50,000 more, and the re­main­ing eight would stand to gain just over $2,000 each.

With such high stakes, fish­ing com­pe­ti­tions have spe­cific rules about when, where and how fish can be caught. Tour­na­ment or­ga­niz­ers use var­i­ous mea­sures to make sure com­peti­tors com­ply with the rules. Be­fore poly­graph tests be­came wide­spread, tour­na­ment or­ga­niz­ers of­ten had bi­ol­o­gists Philip G. Heasley and his com­pan­ions were aboard the Kal­lianassa when he caught the 76.5-pound white marlin they sub­mit­ted as the first-prize win­ner in the White Marlin Open. cer­tify re­sults. Some even used a spe­cial gad­get to de­ter­mine the fresh­ness of a fish.

Martin L. Gary, the ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary of the Po­tomac River Fish­eries Com­mis­sion, based in Vir­ginia, pre­vi­ously worked as a fish­eries bi­ol­o­gist at the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and was of­ten called to in­spect win­ning fish at com­pe­ti­tions around the state.

“You added an air of pro­fes­sion­al­ism. We might be that pres­ence, that de­ter­rence,” he said.

Gary said it was not un­com­mon to hear sto­ries about fish­er­man who would catch a fish days be­fore a com­pe­ti­tion and keep it on ice. An­other trick was stick­ing ice cubes down the fish’s gul­let to add weight.

Given the high stakes in the White Marlin Open, he said, the or­ga­niz­ers have to re­quire the poly­graph tests.

“The whole town is vested in that con­test,” he said. “It draws peo­ple from all over.”

At the Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, Gary helped run the an­nual the Mary­land Fish­ing Chal­lenge, which ran about a decade and of­fered prizes in­clud­ing boats, trucks and cash.

In the ini­tial years of the com­pe­ti­tion, Gary said they didn’t rely on poly­graph tests, but later started us­ing a poly­graph ex­am­iner from the Mary­land Nat­u­ral Re­sources Po­lice. When they started re­quir­ing the test, Gary re­called, some com­peti­tors balked and oth­ers failed, but none dis­puted the find­ings.

“The poly­graph was an ef­fec­tive tool,” he said.

Dave Smith, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Mary­land Salt­wa­ter Sport­fish­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, which holds four tour­na­ments ev­ery year, said the pur­pose of the lie-de­tec­tor tests is typ­i­cally to de­ter­mine if the fish­er­men caught the fish that day, if they had any as­sis­tance and whether they caught it within the al­lot­ted time.

“It’s on the honor sys­tem” on the open wa­ter, he said. “The only way a tour­na­ment has an abil­ity to keep it hon­est is the poly­graph test.”

Mot­sko said he started the tour­na­ment in 1974 af­ter work­ing sum­mers on char­ter boats in col­lege. He said he be­came in­ter­ested in the back­room wa­gers, where an­glers would put money into a brown bag and award the bag to the one among them who caught the prize-win­ning fish.

He wanted to cre­ate a com­pe­ti­tion that was open to ev­ery­one, not just sea­soned fish­er­men. So, with the help from his late wife, he held the first White Marlin Open, which drew 57 boats and awarded $20,000 in prize money.

Mot­sko said he had to bor­row money from a bank to pay out the full amount that first year, but the tour­na­ment grew over the years. This year, 328 boats com­peted, he said. “The tour­na­ment has grown into a real eco­nomic en­gine for this area,” Mot­sko said.

Brian Rus­sell, 46, of Lit­tlestown, Pa., would earn an ad­di­tional $2,000 if the fed­eral judge grants the or­ga­niz­ers’ re­quest.

Rus­sell de­cided to com­pete in his first White Marlin Open in Au­gust af­ter a friend bought a 42-foot fish­ing boat named Sea Wolf. He and five other men split the cost of the en­trance fee and ex­penses for fuel, ice and food.

“We en­tered with the hopes of win­ning and tried to catch the big white marlin. We ended up catch­ing a big dolphin,” said Rus­sell, a gen­eral man­ager at P. Flani­gan & Sons Inc., an as­phalt plant in Bal­ti­more.

Rus­sell reeled in a 36-pound mahi-mahi — a species of dol­phin­fish; it took about 25 min­utes to land the fish. He caught it the morn­ing of the sec­ond day of com­pe­ti­tion, put it on ice and con­tin­ued to fish be­fore head­ing to the weigh mas­ter back at the ma­rina at the end of the day. He and the oth­ers on the boat split the $15,000 win­nings.

Rus­sell re­called see­ing Heasley and his crew re­ceive the big card­board check at the awards cer­e­mony, but he had no idea of the con­tro­versy that en­sued un­til he start­ing get­ting let­ters from at­tor­neys.

“I very rarely read it,” he said of the let­ters. “It’s kind of ex­cit­ing to be a part of it. But now it’s drag­ging on a lit­tle bit.”



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