White Marlin Open Seeks Court Ruling On Payout Dispute

SNOW HILL – Amid confusion over alleged failed or untimely polygraph tests, the White Marlin Open organizers this week filed a complaint in Worcester County Circuit Court asking a judge to sort out who should be awarded the hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake in the 2007 tournament’s blue marlin division.

White Marlin Open Inc. this week filed a complaint of interpleader in Worcester County Circuit Court, which essentially asks a judge to intercede on its behalf and assess who among the top three winners in the 2007 tournament’s blue marlin division should be awarded the roughly $667,000 in prize money at stake. The complaint was filed after it came to light the second-place finisher did not pass two separate polygraph tests following the tournament and the first-place finisher did not take his required polygraph test until weeks after the required time on Saturday, Aug. 11, the day after the fishing part of the tournament ended but before the awards banquet.

Angler Robert Belansen, fishing aboard the “Beast” out of Cape May, N.J., weighed a 567-pound blue marlin on the tournament’s first day that briefly took the top spot in the tournament. On the event’s second day, angler Bill Mathews of Berlin, fishing aboard the “Gale Force II,” weighed a 590-pound blue marlin, jumping into first-place in the division and knocking Belansen and the “Beast” into second.

Later in the week, angler Carl Hurledaus, fishing aboard the “Wireless,” hauled in a 632-pound blue marlin, taking the tournament’s top prize in the division and knocking Mathews and Belansen to second and third place, respectively. The payouts for the top three spots in the blue marlin division were as follows: Hurledaus, “Wireless,” first-place, $378,210; Mathews, “Gale Force II,” second-place, $289,640; and Belansen, “Beast,” third-place, $176,569.

However, how the prize money should be divided became unclear after some technical issues involving post-tournament polygraph tests came to light. The tournament rules specifically require any angler winning over $50,000 in prize money to submit to a polygraph exam on the day after the fishing segment of the tournament officially closes, in this case Saturday, Aug. 11.

According to court documents, Hurledaus, the first-place winner, was unaware of the rule and left the area before taking the polygraph. He returned on Aug. 29 to take the test, which he passed, but it was well after official Aug. 11 date.

To make matters even more confusing, the second-place angler, Mathews, did take his polygraph exam on Aug. 11 as required, but there were inconsistencies or irregularities in his responses which forced tournament officials to require a second test performed by an independent private polygraph administrator.

The first test asked broad questions such as “During the 2007 WMO, did you knowingly violate any tournament rules?” and “Did you intentionally falsify any information in the written statement you provided to me?” According to court documents, Mathews gave a deceptive answer to the former and an inconclusive answer to the latter.

In the second polygraph test, the administrator asked even more specific questions such as “Did you have any help fighting the fish?” to which Mathews replied no, and “Did you knowingly violate any rules of the 2007 White Marlin Open?” to which the angler also responded no. According to court documents, in the tester’s opinion, Mathews was not truthful on either set of questions.

Based on the shaky polygraph results for Mathews, and the untimely taking of the test for Hurledaus, third-place finisher Belansen notified WMO officials by letter dated Aug. 31 he formally objects to and protests the results of the blue marlin division.

“Belansen believes he is entitled to first-place and second-place prize money because Mathews did not pass the polygraph and Hurledaus did not take the test on Aug. 11 as required,” court documents read. As a result, he is now seeking the entire $667,000-plus awarded in the blue marlin division.

To complicate the issue further, on Aug. 22, Captain Dave Frederick of the “Gale Force II” made a formal demand for the $289,640 owed to Mathews for his second-place finish in the blue marlin division. The demand came despite Mathews’ alleged deceptive or inconclusive results on the polygraph exam.

In order to absolve themselves from the responsibility of sorting out who should be paid what and who, if anyone, should be disqualified, WMO officials this week filed the complaint of interpleader, which essentially asks a Worcester County Circuit Court judge to decide. The $667,000-plus in prize money is currently in escrow and will, by order of a judge, be turned over to the court, until the issues can be resolved.

White Marlin Open President Jim Motsko said he felt he was in a difficult position to resolve this dispute. He said he had no way of deciding whom to award the money to because no matter what he did one party would ultimately take umbrage over the decision.

“The important thing in all this was to preserve the integrity of the tournament. Based on legal advice, this was the best way to do that,” said Motsko, who acknowledged this was the first in the tournament’s history a challenge has been filed over payouts.

By filing the complaint, the WMO is, in essence, trying to wash its hands of sorting out the controversy.

“The claims of the defendants are hostile, conflicting and mutually exclusive, and by reason of these claims, the White Marlin Open is unable to determine for itself which defendant, or defendants, are entitled to receive the escrowed funds without exposing the plaintiff to multiple claims of liability,” the complaint reads.