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Former Member of Ship’s Crew Pleads Guilty

CAMDEN, NJ—A former crew member of the fishing boat Alexander II admitted today that he participated in a plot to sink the ship off the coast of Cape May in August 2009 in exchange for payment, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Erik James, 40, of Goshen, N.J., pleaded guilty to a superseding Information charging him with conspiracy to destroy the Alexander II on the high seas. James entered his guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb in Camden federal court.

The owner of the boat, Scott Tran, 38, of Cherry Hill, pleaded guilty on Nov. 16, 2011, to an Indictment charging him with one count of conspiracy to destroy a vessel on the high seas, admitting that he did so in order to collect $400,000 from the company that insured the boat. Tran’s right-hand man, Manh Nguyen, 58, of Philadelphia, pleaded guilty the same day to a superseding Information charging him with a similar conspiracy offense. Crew member Christopher Martin, 40, of Wildwood, N.J., pleaded guilty to a superseding Information charging him with the conspiracy on Nov. 14, 2011.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made during the guilty plea proceedings:

The 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 James and 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. James admitted that he agreed to participate in the sinking of the boat in exchange for $2,000.

The count to which James pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty 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 to rescuing the captain and crew, and salvage and towing companies which brought the boat back to shore and repaired it. Sentencing for James is currently scheduled for March 19, 2012.

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.

Defense counsel: Anne C. Singer Esq., Haddonfield, N.J.

via www.fbi.gov