First-Place Tuna In 2016 White Marlin Open Sees Prize Money Jump To $2.8M After Legal Battle

First-Place Tuna In 2016 White Marlin Open Sees Prize Money Jump To $2.8M After Legal Battle
The prize money for the first-place tuna in last year's White Marlin Open jumped from $767,000 to $2.8 million as a result of last month's court order. Photo by Hooked On OC

OCEAN CITY — After a federal judge last month ruled the supposed winner of the white marlin division in the 2016 White Marlin Open (WMO) was not entitled to the record $2.8 million prize, that money will now be redistributed to the winners in several other categories representing significant increases for some winning anglers.

In June, U.S. District Court essentially ruled in favor of the WMO and the other plaintiffs in a federal interpleader case and against angler Phil Heasley and the Kallianassa out of Naples, Fla. Heasley’s 76.5-pound white marlin was the one and only qualifying white marlin weighed during 2016 event and was initially to receive a tournament-record $2.8 million payday.

However, suspected rules violations regarding the time of the catch and subsequent deceptive polygraph examinations by Heasley and the Kallianassa captain and crew landed the case first in Worcester County Circuit Court and later in U.S. District Court. In mid-June, after 10 months of legal wrangling and an eight-day trial, U.S. District Court Richard Bennett ruled Heasley and the Kallianassa crew should be disqualified because of the apparent rules violations regarding the time of the catch and the failed polygraph exams, putting the $2.8 million top prize still out there for distribution to the winners in the other categories.

Last Friday, the plaintiffs including the WMO and the winners in all of the other tournament categories submitted a final status report outlining the division of the attorney fees and other expenses involved in litigating the case and the proposed distribution of the $2.8 million in prize money. Essentially, the other plaintiffs, or the winners in other categories, have agreed to pay $340,000 of the WMO’s cost to litigate the case, with the lion’s share paid by the plaintiffs who stand to gain the most from the trial outcome.

For example, the first-place tuna, a 236-pounder caught by angler Richard Kosztyu aboard the Hubris, has essentially agreed to pay a $287,000 contribution to the WMO’s legal fees associated with the case. However, Kosztyu and the Hubris stand to gain the most from the redistribution of the prize money.  The Hubris already received $767,000 for the first-place tuna, but with the anticipated $2.025 million more in redistributed prize money, Kosztyu and the Hubris crew now stand to win roughly $2.8 million for the first-place tuna.

Angler Jim Conway on the Get Reel, who caught the first-place blue marlin, a 790-pounder, will contribute $21,616 to the WMO’s legal fees. Conway and the Get Reel crew already received $259,000 in prize money and is expected to receive $233,000 more, bringing its total for the first-place blue marlin to $492,000.

Angler Mark Hutchinson on the Magic Moment also contributed a significant amount to the legal fees associated with litigating the case at $17,447. However, the Magic Moment crew already received $132,000 for the second-place tuna, a 233-pounder, and is expected to receive $123,000 more, for a new total prize of $255,000.

The next biggest agreed-upon contributions to the legal fees among the remaining plaintiffs come from the two anglers and boats that tied for third-place in the tuna division. Angler Pat Horning and the Fish Whistle crew and angler David Arnold and the crew on the American Lady each tied for third in the tuna division with 71-pounders and each will contribute $5,859 to the legal fees under the final status report.

However, each stands to gain a significant amount of prize money from the final settlement. For example, the Fish Whistle was initially awarded $5,626 in prize money, but it will receive $41,330 more according to the status report, bringing its total to $46,956. The American Lady was awarded $52,126 initially, but with its additional $41,330, its total prize jumps to $93,456.

For the remaining eight place-winners in various categories, their contributions to the legal fees were small by comparison at around $264 each, but their share of the redistributed prize money is equally small at $1,861 each, which does not significantly impact their total prize after redistribution.

The judge in June ruled Heasley and the Kallianassa crew were deceptive on their post-tournament polygraph exams. Perhaps more importantly, the judge ruled the winning angler and boat violated a critical tournament rule regarding the timing of the catch of the first-place white marlin, which came to light after the polygraph discrepancies were revealed.

Per tournament rules, participating boats cannot start fishing before 8:30 a.m. on any of the fishing days and judge ruled the evidence and testimony including a detailed analysis of the vessel’s computer and GPS equipment showed the Kallinassa was fishing before 8:30 a.m. last Aug. 9 when the winning white marlin was caught.

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.