FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 16, 2011
CAMDEN, N.J. – The owner of a fishing boat admitted today that he developed a plot to sink his ship, the Alexander II, off the coast of Cape May in August 2009 in order to collect $400,000 from the insurance company that insured the boat, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Scott Tran, 38, of Cherry Hill, pleaded guilty to an Indictment charging him with one count of conspiracy to destroy a vessel on the high seas. Tran’s right-hand man, Manh Nguyen, 58, of Philadelphia, also pleaded guilty today to a superseding Information charging him with a similar conspiracy offense.
Crew member Christopher Martin, 39, of Wildwood, N.J., pleaded guilty to a superseding Information charging him with the conspiracy on Nov. 14, 2011. All three defendants entered their guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb in Camden federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made during the guilty plea proceedings:
The three defendants engaged in a scheme to sink the Alexander II so that Tran could collect on an insurance policy with State National Insurance Company. In July 2009, Tran hired a captain for the ship, whom Tran and Nguyen then solicited to sink the Alexander II in return for payment. The captain then recruited a crew, including Martin, to help him sink the boat.
On August 2, 2009, the Alexander II left Cape May, N.J. Although the Alexander II had little fuel, ice, food, and other supplies for a lengthy fishing trip, the ship’s log was falsified to read that more than 50 fish, weighing a total of approximately 3,000 pounds, had been caught.
Once the Alexander II reached a point approximately 86 miles southeast of Cape May, the captain and his crew worked together in an unsuccessful attempt to sink it. Martin admitted that after filling parts of the boat with seawater, they sent a distress signal to the U.S. Coast Guard and abandoned ship together in a life raft.
Tran admitted that he communicated with the captain during the voyage by email, telling him that he should sink the boat.
The U.S. Coast Guard rescued the captain and crew. Martin admitted giving false statements to the Coast Guard regarding the incident, per the captain’s direction. The Coast Guard found no fish aboard the boat or in the hold.
Tran admitted that he gave Nguyen several hundred dollars in cash to give to the captain and each member of the crew for their participation in the attempted sinking. Nguyen admitted to making those payments. Tran admitted that he had offered to pay the captain $10,000 and each crew member $2,000 to sink the boat.
Tran then submitted a claim to his insurance broker in order to collect $400,000, the limit of the insurance policy. After the claim was denied, Tran filed a lawsuit in the New Jersey Superior Court in Camden County, seeking damages of $400,000, including damage to the Alexander II and loss of use of the Alexander II.
The count to which Tran pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the amount of loss caused by the offense. The count in the Superseding Informations to which Martin and Nguyen pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the amount of loss caused by the offense. In addition, the government will seek restitution for expenses, including attorneys fees, that the insurance company has incurred to defend the lawsuit. Additional victims include the U.S. Coast Guard, which devoted resources and manpower to rescuing the captain and crew, and salvage and towing companies which brought the boat back to shore and repaired it.
The case against alleged co-conspirator Erik James, 40, of Goshen, N.J., remains pending. The charges and allegations contained in the Indictment charging James are merely accusations, and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of FBI, Atlantic City Resident Agency, Newark Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Ward; and investigators with the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Robert L. Taylor, for the investigation. He also thanked the Philadelphia and Cape May office of the U.S. Coast Guard, Investigative Division, for its assistance.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Howard Wiener of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Camden.
Scott Tran: William Brennan Esq., Philadelphia
Manh Nguyen: Perry de Marco Sr. Esq., Philadelphia
Christopher Martin: Stanley King Esq., Woodbury, N.J.