OCEAN CITY — A multi-party federal suit, involving an alleged rules violation in last year’s White Marlin Open (WMO) that has left the tournament’s top prize of $2.8 million hanging in the balance for several months, is inching closer to resolution with a trial date this month.
Last August, WMO officials discovered a potential rules violation that could disqualify the winner in the white marlin division, 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 lone qualifier.
WMO officials announced potential rules violations regarding the timing of the catch two weeks after the tourney and that Heasley and three other individuals on the Kallianassa including the captain and two mates were deceptive on their answers to some of the questions during the requisite post-tournament polygraph examinations for the winners in major categories.
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. The interpleader case was ultimately moved to U.S. District Court and the case has since taken many legal twists and turns in the months since.
Pre-trial motions and responses have been coming fast and furious and have been filed almost daily in the last couple of months leading up to the trial. Just last week, three more entries were filed on the docket including a motion to exclude or limit the testimony of Heasley’s experts, a motion to preclude arguments concerning rule violations, a motion to preclude the testimony of the WMO’s expert on tournament rules.
Perhaps the most significant recent action came on April 24 when U.s. District Judge Richard Bennett denied a motion for summary judgment filed by two plaintiffs including Richard Kosztyu and the Hubris, the first-place winner in the tuna division, and Mark Hutchison and the Hubris crew, second-place winner in the tuna division. Hutchison and Kosztyu argued because Heasley and the Kallianassa crew did not pass the requisite post-tournament polygraph tests, or were allegedly deceptive in their responses, they were in violation of the tournament’s agreed-upon rules and, therefore, ineligible for the $2.8 million prize.
Instead, the plaintiffs argued because Heasley and the Kallianassa crew were ineligible for the $2.8 million, it should be redistributed to the winners in other categories. The two plaintiffs stand to gain the most from a disqualification of the Kallianassa with Kosztyu and the Hubris crew set to receive an additional $2.3 million and Hutchison and the Magic Moment crew standing to gain an additional $140,000, however, Bennett denied the motion to essentially dismiss the case and allowed it to continue on a course for a trial date later this month.
“The parties’ submissions have been reviewed and no hearing is necessary,” the judge’s opinion reads. “For the reasons stated below, the plaintiff’s motion is denied and this case shall proceed to a bench trial beginning on May 22, 2017.”
The case was set for trial in September 2017, but Bennett earlier this year expedited the trial date so the case would not be looming over the 2017 WMO in August.
Boiled down to its simplest terms, the Interpleader asserts Heasley, Captain David Morris and mates Kyle Bohannon and Joseph Hagen, the only four people on the “Kallianassa” on Aug. 9 when the winning white was caught, each failed the requisite polygraph tests after administrators determined they were deceptive in their answers to some questions regarding the time of the catch. Per tournament rules, any place-winner with prize money of $50,000 or more is required to submit to polygraph examinations on the Saturday after the tournament has concluded.
More specifically, the Interpleader asserts the time of the catch of the winning 76.5-pound white marlin on Tuesday, Aug. 9, was altered on the official catch report submitted at the scale that afternoon. The official catch report appears to show an initial time of 8:15 a.m. was entered, but then altered to 9:05 a.m. Per tournament rules, which are clearly posted and carefully reviewed during the pre-tournament captain’s meeting, participating boats cannot put lines in the water before 8:30 a.m. on each of the five official fishing days.