Boat crew indicted on insurance fraud charges

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A New Jersey fishing boat owner and crew were indicted Wednesday and charged with conspiring to sink their vessel off the coast of Cape May, N.J., to collect a $400,000 insurance payment, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.

The indictment charges the boat’s owner, Scott Tran, 38, of Cherry Hill, N.J.; his right-hand man, Manh Nguyen, 58, of Philadelphia; and crewmembers Eric James, 39, of Goshen, N.J., and Christopher Martin, 39, of Wildwood, N.J., with one count of conspiring to destroy the boat, the Alexander II. Nguyen, James and Martin also are charged with attempting to destroy the boat.

FBI agents arrested Tran and Nguyen on Wednesday, and they were expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Williams in federal court in Camden, N.J. James and Martin remain at large.

According to the indictment:

The four defendants engaged in a scheme to sink the Alexander II so that Tran could collect on an insurance policy with State National Insurance Co. In July 2009, Tran hired Henry “Mike” Anholt as the captain of the Alexander II. Tran and Nguyen then solicited Anholt to sink the Alexander II on the high seas in return for payments to him and his crew.

Anholt then recruited a crew, including James and Martin, to help him sink the boat.

On Aug. 2, 2009, the Alexander II left Cape May. Although the boat 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 about 3,000 pounds had been caught.

Once the Alexander II reached a point about 86 miles southeast of Cape May, the captain and his crew worked together in an unsuccessful attempt to sink it. After filling it with sea water, they sent a distress signal to the Coast Guard and abandoned ship together in a life raft.

The Coast Guard soon found the Alexander II and rescued the captain and crew, finding no fish aboard the boat or in the hold. The captain and at least one crewmember gave false statements to the Coast Guard about the incident.

Each of the two counts in the indictment carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the amount of loss the offenses caused.

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