WMO Issues Statement After Tourney Prize Money Hung Up By Polygraph Again

WMO Issues Statement After Tourney Prize Money Hung Up By Polygraph Again
Photo by Dave Messick/Hooked On OC

OCEAN CITY — With a successful completion of an acceptable polygraph examination for one unidentified winning angler in the 2017 White Marlin Open (WMO) still hanging in the balance, tournament officials have released a statement on the use of the exams and the sanctity of the tournament.

At least one of the winners in the 2017 WMO has not passed a polygraph examination and has been subjected to a second round of exams, the results of which are not yet known. WMO officials have not named the angler who did not pass his initial polygraph exam following the tournament. Per tournament rules, any angler who wins more than $50,000 in prize money is subjected to the exams. In the 2017 event, a total of nine anglers won in excess of $50,000 including the top three white marlin, five different tunas and the top dolphin.

WMO officials released a statement this weekend explaining the process and post-tournament protocols and the necessity for maintaining the sanctity of the tournament.

“As has been the policy of the White Marlin Open since 2004, at the conclusion of the 2017 tournament, the top money winners were polygraphed,” the statement reads. “Over the past year, the tournament directors have demonstrated their determination to protect the integrity of the tournament as the largest billfish tournament in the world.”

The WMO statement defends the use of post-tournament polygraph exams as a means to ensure fairness and accuracy.

“The tournament directors make every possible effort to ensure complete fairness to all participants, including a post-tournament protocol to verify compliance with the rules,” the statement reads. “The White Marlin Open, like many other tournaments, has found that the use of polygraphs is an effective method of ensuring compliance with the rules, particularly with over 300 boats participating over tens of thousands of square miles.  The rules allow the tournament directors to require additional polygraphs for the angler and others on the winning boat, and also provide the angler with a right to obtain a separate polygraph at his or her own expense.”

WMO officials have not named the angler in question nor the category in which the fish in question was caught.

“After all tests are completed, the tournament directors will carefully review the results with the polygraph examiners and other polygraph experts, and will make a decision about each individual angler,” the statement reads. “The tournament does not intend to make any further public comment on this year’s results until the process is completed.”

Last year, after the Kallianassa, apparent winners of the white marlin category in the 2016 WMO and $2.8 million, failed multiple polygraph exams following the tournament, officials filed an interpleader action in Worcester County Circuit Court to let a judge decide the outcome and how the prize money should best be distributed to the winners in several other categories. The case ended up in U.S. District Court and after 10 months of legal wrangling and an eight-day trial, a federal judge ruled in favor of the WMO and essentially denied the $2.8 million award to angler Phil Heasley and the Kallianassa.

Instead, the judge ruled in favor of a plan that would redistribute the $2.8 million in prize money to the winners in several other categories in the 2016 tournament. Heasley and the Kallianassa have since filed an appeal and the $2.8 million is being held by the court until that process runs its course.

The WMO statement also explains how the process was employed after the 2016 tournament with Heasley and the Kallianassa crew.

“After the 2016 tournament was complete, the winning angler and his entire crew (four persons) were allowed five chances to pass polygraphs and none passed,” the statement reads. “As a result, the tournament directors declined to award the $2,818,000 prize money to the angler, and advocated that the prize money be awarded instead to the anglers next in line. For 10 months thereafter, White Marlin Open participated in a federal court trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before the Honorable Richard D. Bennett, who, on June 14, 2017 rendered a comprehensive memorandum opinion wherein he analyzed every facet of the procedures of the tournament. Judge Bennett specifically held that the use of polygraphs is widely accepted in fishing tournaments, and that White Marlin Open’s procedures are fairly and competently administered.”

With his appeal still pending, Heasley, through his attorney, took the opportunity to weigh in on the latest polygraph exam issues following the 2017 WMO.

“The Kallianassa doesn’t delight at anyone’s misfortune,” the statement reads. “We’re saddened to hear that yet again there is a controversy surrounding polygraphs and the White Marlin Open. As we’ve learned throughout our yearlong involvement, polygraphs are unreliable, even when conducted to standards the polygraph examiners set for themselves. We had hoped that the White Marlin Open would have learned this lesson as well and eliminated polygraphs from its competition. Polygraphs have no place in our society, be it in government hiring or in fishing.”

Essentially, Heasley’s statement asserts the most recent failed polygraph exam following the 2017 tournament illustrates the process’s shortcomings.

“We do not know the details of this year’s issues, so we cannot comment on the particulars,” the statement reads. “However, we believe the White Marlin Open could have prevented this if they had only listened to us last year and let us present our evidence, including eyewitnesses, rather than take us to court. We will be monitoring this situation with intense scrutiny. In conclusion, we send our sympathies to all honorable fishermen. You don’t win a contest by winning a polygraph or a court case. You win it by catching a fish fairly.”

In their own statement, WMO officials assert the federal judge’s ruling upheld the sanctity of the post-tournament protocols.

“Regarding the public statement issued last week by Mr. Heasley’s attorney, Christopher Sullivan, the White Marlin Open simply notes that his assertions were rejected by the Honorable Richard D. Bennett, of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, after patiently listening to trial testimony for eight days,” the statement reads. “Moreover, after building the tournament’s reputation for fairness and integrity over the last 44 years, the White Marlin Open directors are not in need of any advice from Mr. Heasley or his attorneys about how to run the tournament.”

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.