Top WMO Tuna Division Finishers File Cross Claim Against Tourney

OCEAN CITY — The federal suit involving an alleged rules violation in the 2016 White Marlin Open took another legal twist this week when the top two tuna division winners filed a cross-claim against the tourney demanding an increased share of the disputed prize money.

On Monday, attorneys for Richard Kosztyu, the first-place winner in the tuna division in the 2016 tournament, and Mark Hutchinson, second-place winner in the tuna division, filed a cross claim against the WMO, asserting a breach of contract spelled out in the tournament rules that has kept them from receiving a larger share of the prize money once the first-place white marlin winner in the 2016 event was declared ineligible. The cross-claim against the WMO essentially demands an additional $2.3 million be released to Kosztyu and the Hubris crew, along with an additional $140,000 to Hutchinson and the crew on the Magic Moment.

In late August, WMO officials discovered a potential rules violation with a 76.5-pounder caught by angler Phillip Heasley on the Kallianassa out of Naples, Fla. Heasley’s 76.5-pound white marlin was awarded a tournament-record $2.8 million in prize money because the Kallianassa was entered across the board in all added entry levels and the fact it was the lone qualifier.

In August, WMO officials through their attorneys filed a Complaint for Interpleader in Worcester County Circuit Court, asking a judge to intercede and decide first if there were rules violations committed by Heasley and the Kallianassa crew, and secondly, if there were violations, how best should the $2.8 million in prize money be distributed to the winners in other categories.

While the Interpleader case continues to plod along to a scheduled May 2017 trial date, Hutchinson and Kosztyu this week filed a cross-claim against the WMO asserting a breach of contract by the tournament and laying claim to the additional prize money owed to them following the disqualification of Heasley and the Kallianassa.

“Prior to the start of the tournament, the cross-plaintiffs entered into a contract with cross-defendant White Marlin Open when they registered, paid their entry fee and agreed to comply with the terms and conditions set forth in the tournament rules and regulations,” the countersuit filed this week reads. “The rules governing all registered participants in the White Marlin Open are a legally binding and enforceable contract upon which the cross-plaintiffs relied in entering the tournament.”

The cross-claim filed against the WMO on Monday asserts Heasley should be disqualified because of the failed polygraph exams, and tournament officials should be required to redistribute the prizes in accordance with the rules.

“Because no one aboard defendant Heasley’s boat passed a polygraph test, defendant Heasley failed to satisfy a contractual condition precedent to be eligible for the distribution of prize money,” the countersuit reads. “Accordingly, WMO officials determined that Heasley would not receive the tournament prize money for the white marlin. In the absence of an eligible white marlin winner, the WMO was required to otherwise distribute the $2.8 million in prize money in accordance with the rules.”

According to the countersuit, since the WMO determined Heasley was ineligible to receive prize money, cross-plaintiff Kosztyu is entitled to $2,312,152 of the prize money, while cross-plaintiff Hutchinson is entitled to $140,509, according to the rules.

“Rather than distributing to cross-plaintiffs in accordance with the tournament rules, the WMO filed this interpleader action,” the countersuit reads. “In doing so, the WMO has failed to comply with the rules, thereby materially breaching its contract with the cross-plaintiffs. The cross-plaintiffs contend that cross-defendant WMO owed them a contractual duty to pay them the outstanding prize money they are entitled to receive and breached that duty by failing to pay.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.