White Marlin Open Controversy Revisited as Team Appeals Court Decision

A U.S. District Court judge had previously ruled against the team and in favor of the tournament


August 2, 2017
Phillip Heasley Kallianassa White Marlin Open 2016
Phillip Heasley and the Kallianassa team landed the only qualifying white marlin in the 2016 White Marlin Open, but a federal judge has ruled that the team will not receive $2.8 million in prize money due to a rules infraction. Heasley is now appealing the decision. Hooked on OC

Kallianassa Team Appeals District Court Decision

Philip Heasley, owner of Kallianassa, announced on August 2, 2017, that he has filed a notice of appeal to last month’s U.S. District Court decision in the legal battle between the prestigious tournament and the boat owner. The ruling was in favor of the tournament, which claimed the team broke the rules and should not be awarded the $2.8 million prize for its 76.5-pound white marlin catch.

“We filed today’s appeal because the District Court ruling last month was fundamentally wrong. It became clear that the judge based much of his ruling on a deeply flawed assumption, and discarded facts, evidence and eyewitness testimony that contradicted it,” Heasley said in a statement. “The Kallianassa crew and I caught the tournament’s only qualifying white marlin fairly, legally and without violating any tournament rules.”

The appeal focuses on the unreliability of polygraphs and the district court judge misinterpreting a statement made in deposition about lines being in the water too soon.


The case now goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia.

Judge Orders Distribution of $2.8 Million in Prize Money

After a federal judge ruled in favor of the White Marlin Open in a legal battle with the Kallianassa team, which landed the only qualifying white marlin in the 2016 tournament, the winning teams in other categories will see a bump in their paydays as the $2.8 million payout is dispersed.

According to a report from The Dispatch in Maryland, the plaintiffs in the case — which include the tournament along with the winners in the other categories — outlined who will pay attorney fees and other expenses involved in litigating the case as well as the distribution of $2.8 million in prize money. The other category winners will pay $340,000 of the tournament’s litigation fees, but will see significant increases in their share of the prize distribution as well.


The Hubris team, which caught the largest tuna, will see a jump from $767,000 in prize money to nearly $2.8 million, The Dispatch reports. The Get Reel team caught the first-place blue marlin, a 790-pounder, and will contribute $21,616 to the WMO’s legal fees, the report states. The team’s payout will jump from $259,000 to $492,000.

The Magic Moment crew’s payout for the second-place tuna, a 233-pounder, will bump from $132,000 to $255,000. Other increases in prize money range from $1,861 to $41,330.

White Marlin Open Controversy Ends

A federal judge has ruled in favor of the White Marlin Open tournament, saying the event correctly applied its rules in the case against Phillip Heasley and the crew of Kallianassa, who landed the only qualifying white marlin in the 2016 tournament. Heasley later failed multiple polygraph examinations and was not awarded the overall prize for the biggest white marlin of more than $2.8 million. During the two-week trial, the judge determined that Kallianassa had started fishing before the tournament’s official start time on the day they landed their 76.5-pound white marlin, thus disqualifying the catch.


“We are incredibly relieved that we can finally put this behind us and start moving forward again,” says Jim Motsko, co-founder and tournament director of the White Marlin Open, an event with a long and storied history. “This ruling upholds the integrity of the tournament and the value of polygraph examinations, and it also proves that we did the right thing. The judge and the lawyers believed in us, and we feel like the weight of the world is off our shoulders.” He did say that Heasley has 30 days to appeal for judicial error.

The ruling is also important for other tournaments that award substantial cash prizes and use polygraph examinations as a method of determining the outcome. “If the judge had not allowed the polygraph testimony, it would open a can of worms,” Motsko says, “but in this case the judge felt that our use of polygraph as a tool was justified in determining whether or not they had broken the rules.”

According to the judge’s ruling, the decision only governs whether Heasley would receive the prize money. Another decision will determine how the $2.8 million will be divided among the other tournament winners.


Motsko says he looks forward to hosting the 2017 White Marlin Open, slated for August 7-11, 2017 in Ocean City, Maryland.

Update: Phillip Heasley Responds; Monday, October 17

The owner of Kallianassa, Phillip Heasley, has responded to the allegations that led to his disqualification from the 2016 White Marlin Open. His attorneys recently filed a detailed formal answer to the complaint, in which they deny any wrongdoing by the angler, captain or crew of Kallianassa. The formal answer seeks to have the case thrown out and the prize money awarded to them.

“Heasley denies that he was deceptive, employed ‘countermeasures’ or violated the rules of the White Marlin Open,” the answer filed this week reads. “Heasley denies that Capt. Morris was deceptive or violated the rules of the tournament. The allegations are hereby denied to the extent they state or suggest that Heasley was deceptive, employed so-called countermeasures, or that he or other aboard Kallianassa violated the rules of the tournament.”

Instead, Heasley asserts he was given the trophy and check at the awards ceremony after he had completed the required first polygraph test. It was only after another polygraph examiner, who was not present, viewed the results of the first test that a second polygraph exam was ordered. Heasley also said he wasn’t “invited” to take a second polygraph test, but rather was told he would not receive the prize money unless he agreed to it.

“The White Marlin Open declared Heasley the winner of the tournament and presented him both the first-place trophy and check at the awards ceremony after they had administered the first polygraph test,” the answer reads. “Therefore, the White Marlin Open waived any right it might have had to further dispute Heasley’s win and the court should order that Heasley be awarded the first place prize of $2,818,662.”

In August, tournament officials, through their attorneys, filed a Complaint for Interpleader in Worcester County Circuit Court, essentially asking a judge to intercede and decide first if there were rules violations committed by Heasley and the Kallianassa crew, and secondly, if there were violations, how best should the $2.8 million in prize money be distributed to the winners in other categories. Last month, Heasley’s attorneys filed a motion to remove the Complaint for Interpleader out of Worcester County Circuit Court and move it instead to U.S. District Court. Heasley, a Florida resident, cited jurisdictional issues as the reason for moving the case from Worcester County Circuit Court to federal court.

Update: White Marlin Open Responds; Friday, Aug. 26

Below is a response from the White Marlin Open:

STATEMENT REGARDING WHITE MARLIN WINNINGS Today, Friday August 26, White Marlin Open, Inc. filed a Complaint for Interpleader in the Circuit Court for Worcester County, Maryland. By doing this the tournament directors seek to have a formal court proceeding in which a judge will determine the issues as to which angler or anglers will receive the prize.

The White Marlin Open does not share in, or receive any portion of the award, no matter to whom it is awarded, nor does it receive any portion of the money paid into court. It has no monetary interest in the proceeds of the prize money. The sole purpose in filing the Interpleader with the Court is to preserve the integrity of the tournament, its rules and awards, and due to the circumstances of the matter at issue, the Directors and the Tournament judges believed that the best way of resolving all controversies was to seek a judicial determination of the matter. This way, a judge can consider the matter in its entirety and make an official judgment as to the award of the prize.

If more information is desired, click below

Update: Kallianassa Team Disputes Disqualification; Friday, Aug. 26

2016 White Marlin Open disqualified team Kallinassa Phil Heasley first place controversy
Kallianassa weighed the only qualifying white marlin in this year’s tournament, a fish that could potentially be worth over $2.8 million in prize money. Courtesy Hooked on OC / Marlin Magazine

In an official statement, the Kallianassa team has disputed their disqualification from the White Marlin Open:

In response to a “perceived to have committed” allegation against Kallianassa, the winner of the 2016 White Marlin Open held in Ocean City, MD, its owner regrets that there is any ambiguity surrounding its successful participation in the tournament.

The owner, captain and crew adamantly state that they have followed all tournament rules and regulations without exception and have unequivocally committed no wrongdoing. “The Kallianassa‘s excellent crew and superb captain have always maintained the highest levels of integrity; they will be vindicated and walking tall in the fishing community,” said Philip Heasley, owner of Kallianassa.

For additional information, please contact: Chris Sullivan Robins Kaplan LLP 617-267-2300 [email protected]

White Marlin Open Winners Disqualified; Thursday, Aug. 25

2016 White Marlin Open disqualified team Kallinassa Phil Heasley first place
According to a release from the tournament, the Kallianassa team will not receive their $2.8 million prize for the winning white marlin. Courtesy Coastal Fisherman

Tournament officials for the White Marlin Open have announced there was a potential violation of tournament rules and the first-place prize money was being held pending a determination of the proper recipient. Phil Heasley and the Kallianassa team were in line to win a record $2.8 million for the sole qualifying white marlin of this year’s tournament but in a statement released by officials from the White Marlin Open, the winning white marlin boat would not be awarded the $2.8 million in prize money due to rules violations. A determination will now be made on how to best distribute the winnings per official tournament rules and regulations.

The statement says, “On August 9, the winning angler in the white marlin category provided catch information for the white marlin, which, as it turned out, would be the sole qualifying white marlin in the tournament. Subsequent investigation as required by the rules and regulations of the White Marlin Open indicated a possible violation of the rules. Accordingly, in an effort to achieve the utmost fairness, the White Marlin Open directors met with independent judges and complete information was provided to the judges for their input with regard to the issue of the potential violation of the rules.”

The statement continues by saying, “After much discussion, and providing evidence of the possible violation of the tournament rules, the judges agreed that the prize would not be awarded to the boat catching the qualifying white marlin, but would, in accordance with the rules of the tournament, be withheld pending the determination of the proper recipient of the prize money.”

“The White Marlin Open strives to obtain the highest integrity and level of transparency in fairness in all of its awards and determination of adherence to the rules and regulations in all cases,” the statement reads. “It is for these reasons that the tournament directors, in coordination with the independent judges in the tournament, have made the determination to withhold the winning prize until it can be ensured that the prize is being paid to the proper recipient thereof.”

Tournament officials said no further statements would be released as the directors and independent judges determine the prize recipients.

See more action from this year’s White Marlin Open.


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