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Owner accused of conspiracy to sink commercial fishing boat off Cape May, collect insurance

The owner of a commercial fishing boat that was often docked in Cape May has been indicted on charges he conspired to have his own vessel sunk so he could collect on a $400,000 insurance claim.

But the boat did not sink, and a follow-up investigation revealed the fishing vessel had no fish or adequate supplies aboard for a regular fishing trip, authorities said.

A federal grand jury Wednesday returned the indictment charging that Scott Tran, 38, of Cherry Hill, hired several men to sink his boat so he could collect insurance.

Manh Nguyen, 58, of Philadelphia, described in the indictment as Tran’s “right-hand man,” and two crewmen from Cape May County, Erik James, 39, of Goshen, Middle Township, and Christopher “Stickman” Martin, 39, of Wildwood, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to destroy the boat.

Tran and Nguyen were arrested by the FBI on Wednesday morning but James and Martin were still being sought, authorities said.

The case surrounds the Alexander II, a commercial boat that was docked in Cape May and Virginia. Authorities said the Aug. 2, 2009, unsuccessful attempt to sink the Alexander II about 86 miles southeast of Cape May damaged the vessel and an insurance claim was filed. The State National Insurance Company denied the claim and on Feb. 4, 2010 Tran filed a lawsuit against the company that is still pending.

The indictment by a federal grand jury at U.S. District Court in Camden was announced Wednesday morning by U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

The indictment alleges that Tran and Nguyen hired commercial fishing boat captain Henry “Mike” Anholt to carry out the scheme. It alleges Tran, Nguyen, Martin and James “knowingly, willfully, and corruptly did conspire, combine, and confederate with each other” and with Anholt to destroy the vessel and injure the State National Insurance Company.

The conspiracy began in July 2009 when Tran hired Anholt to captain the Alexander II and sink it, the indictment says. Anholt then recruited his crew, including James, Martin and Arthur Vitola. They were allegedly paid $2,000 each.

The Alexander II left Cape May on Aug. 2, 2009, reportedly on a fishing trip but, according to authorities, without the required amount of fuel, ice, food and other supplies for such a trip. Authorities say the ship’s log was falsified to say it had 50 fish weighing 3,000 pounds on board.

The indictment says Anholt, James, Martin and Vitola tried to sink the boat by filling it with seawater while “ignoring bilge alarms” and making no use of the ship’s pumps. The crew then sent a distress signal and got in a life raft 86 miles off Cape May.

On Aug. 3 the U.S. Coast Guard rescued the crew. The Coast Guard also found the Alexander II.

The indictment claims Nguyen, on behalf of Tran, then made cash payments to the captain and crew. On Aug. 3, 2009, Tran submitted a claim to the insurance company, which led to a lawsuit.

“It was a part of the conspiracy that during a deposition taken of the defendant Scott Tran during the discovery phase of his lawsuit, the defendant Scott Tran denied in substance under oath that he knew how the Alexander II almost sank,” states the indictment.

Fishman credited Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor and FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward with helping the investigation.

Press of Atlantic City


Written by lordsinsurancelog

June 16, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Posted in Insurance News