First-Place Finisher Seeks White Marlin Open Suit Dismissal

SNOW HILL – While the Worcester County Circuit Court mulls a complaint filed earlier this month asking a judge to sort out who should be awarded the hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake in the blue marlin division of this year’s White Marlin Open, the attorney for the angler who caught the first place white marlin last week filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and demanded his client be paid what is owed him.

Amid confusion over alleged failed or untimely polygraph tests, the White Marlin Open organizers earlier this month filed a complaint of interpleader in Worcester County Circuit Court essentially asking 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 several hundred thousand dollars in prize money at stake. The complaint was filed after it came to light there were irregularities in two separate polygraph tests taken by the second-place winner and the first-place winner did not take his required polygraph test until after the tournament’s award ceremony.

Angler Robert Belansen, fishing aboard the “Beast” out of Cape May, N.J., weighed the first qualifying blue marlin, a 567-pounder weighed on the tournament’s first day that briefly took the top spot in the tournament. On Tuesday, of White Marlin Open week, 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.

On Thursday of the tournament, 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 down 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.

While each of the winners participated in the tournament’s award ceremony and were photographed with their ceremonial “big checks,” the official prize money checks have not been awarded to the winners. Instead, tournament officials are trying to sort out who should be paid what after the third-place winner, Belansen, through his attorney, made a formal complaint demanding the first- and second-place money as well because of the alleged failure to pass the required polygraph test by the second-place winner, Mathews, and the untimely taking of the test by the first-place winner, Hurlebaus.

Unable to reach a conclusion on their own, White Marlin Open officials filed a complaint for interpleader, asking the court to sort out the prize money mess. However, Hurlebaus, through his attorney Hugh Cropper IV, last week entered a motion to dismiss the complaint, stating he complied with everything the tournament officials asked of him with regards to the polygraph test. The motion also asks the court to issue the first-place winner’s prize money immediately.

According to the motion to dismiss, on Saturday, Aug. 11, tournament officials met with Hurlebaus at his boat, the “Wireless,” at Sunset Marina in West Ocean City and told him he had missed the scheduled polygraph exam required of anglers who win more than $50,000 in prize money in the tournament. According to court documents, tournament officials told Hurlebaus at the time it was no big deal and provided him with contact information for the tournament-approved polygraph test administrator and instructed him to arrange to take the test.

Hurlebaus later took the test and passed, but the test was taken after officials received a letter from Belansen’s attorney on Aug. 13 demanding the first- and second-place prize money. Cropper said this week while Hurlebaus did take the test after the formal demand by the third-place winner, he passed the polygraph in every aspect and there was no reason for his client to be denied the first-place prize money.

“At the time the attorney for the third-place winner filed his formal request for all of the blue marlin prize money, Carl [Hurlebaus] hadn’t taken the test yet, but he did soon after and passed in every respect,” he said. “There have been no allegations he did anything to violate tournament rules, nor has there been any suggestion he did anything wrong. He has complied with everything the tournament officials have asked of him, which is why we are asking the complaint be dismissed and demanding the prize money owed to him.”

Cropper also represents the second-place winner, Mathews, and said this week he would seek a similar motion for dismissal on behalf of his other client in the case. The circumstances of Mathews claims are somewhat more difficult, however. Mathews did take his polygraph exam on Aug. 11 as required, but there were irregularities or inconsistencies in his responses, which forced officials to require a second test performed by an independent private polygraph administrator.

Mathews’ second polygraph exam ended with similar results, although Cropper asserted this week the tests should not be used to keep his client from receiving the prize money owed to him.

“The tests are subjective,” he said. “There is no pass or fail result. They are subject to interpretation and are not admissible in a court of law in most cases.”