CAMDEN, NJ—A Philadelphia man was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for his role in a plot to sink a fishing boat off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey, in August 2009 to collect $400,000 from the insurance company that insured the boat, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Manh Nguyen, 59, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb to a superseding information charging him with conspiracy to destroy a vessel on the high seas. Judge Bumb imposed the sentence today in Camden federal court. The ship’s owner, Scott Tran, 39, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, previously pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with a similar conspiracy offense.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Nguyen, Tran, and others 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 to help him sink the boat.
On August 2, 2009, the Alexander II left Cape May. 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. 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 e-mail, telling him that he should sink the boat. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued the captain and crew. 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 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 boat.
In addition to the prison term, Nguyen was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution to the U.S. Coast Guard in an amount to be determined later.
Tran is currently awaiting sentencing.
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.