It must have seemed like a good plan at the time: Pay a crew to take your boat offshore, open the seacocks and send her to the bottom, then collect a $400,000 insurance claim.
Instead, Scott Tran is heading to prison, sentenced June 12 to nearly four years. He also will have to make $280,000 in restitution and pay a $75,000 fine.
Tran, 40, a Vietnamese-born U.S. citizen living in Cherry Hill, N.J., is reportedly a chiropractor by trade who owns the 75-foot commercial fishing vessel Alexander II.
According to the Department of Justice indictment, Tran hired Henry “Mike” Anholt in July 2009 as captain of the Alexander II. Tran and “right-hand man” Manh Nguyen then solicited Anholt to sink the Alexander II in return for payments to him and his crew.
Anholt recruited three crewmembers to help him sink the boat. The payment for the job was $10,000 for the captain and $2,000 for each crewmember.
On Aug. 2, 2009, they steamed out of Cape May, N.J., with little fuel, ice, food or other supplies for a lengthy fishing trip. The ship’s log was falsified to read that more than 50 fish, weighing about 3,000 pounds, had been caught, the indictment reads.
Eighty-six miles offshore, the captain and his crew opened the seacocks.
“Once the captain and crew of the Alexander II had succeeded in filling a portion of its interior with seawater, while ignoring the bilge alarms that were sounding, and made no use of the ship’s pumps, which were in good working condition, to clear the ship of water, they sent a distress signal to the U.S. Coast Guard and then abandoned the Alexander II together in a life raft,” reads the Department of Justice indictment.
Trouble is, the boat didn’t sink.
A Coast Guard helicopter soon found it and hoisted all four people from the life raft.
Click play to watch Coast Guard footage of the rescue.
“They did everything right,” Lt. Neal Corbin, a pilot for the rescue team, said at the time. “They evaluated the situation, and when we arrived on scene they had already donned their survival suits and were shooting off flares.”
A Coast Guard boarding team found no fish aboard, and the boat was towed to shore. The captain and at least one crewmember gave false statements to the Coast Guard regarding the incident.
Two of the three crewmembers were indicted, as was Nguyen, who was sentenced last year to two years in prison for conspiring to sink the Alexander II. Anholt died in an automobile accident before the indictment was returned. The two indicted crewmembers were sentenced last year to 30 months in prison.
After the rescue, Tran tried to stiff Anholt and the crew, paying them less than he had promised, according to the indictment in the case, as reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
After Tran’s insurance claim was denied, he sued his insurance company for damages, but the case was later dropped.
At his sentencing, Tran apologized to the court, the Coast Guard and his family.
"I find it hard to understand," said U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb, how a man with no criminal record who "came to America looking for a better life, who found a better life, who was amazingly successful, could commit such an egregious crime."
The judge then asked Tran to explain.
"I was influenced by others," he replied. Pressed to elaborate, he added, "It was out of my control."
Citing “arrogance and greed,” the judge gave Tran 45 days to report to prison.