NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal grand jury has indicted the owner of a fishing boat and members of its crew over a bungled plot to sink the boat and collect a $400,000 insurance payment, the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey said on Wednesday.
The indictment charged the boat's owner, Scott Tran, and three other men with conspiracy to destroy the vessel, the Alexander II. The three others were also charged with attempting to destroy the vessel.
Joseph Fabian, a lawyer who has represented Tran in a related civil suit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ship set sail from New Jersey's Cape May in August 2009, the indictment said. About 86 miles off the coast, the captain and his crew allegedly began to fill the vessel with seawater, disregarding the ship's working pumps. With the water level rising, they sent a distress signal to the U.S. Coast Guard before escaping in a life raft.
The ship's log reported a haul of fish weighing 3,000 pounds, the indictment said. But after rescuing captain and crew, the Coast Guard found no fish aboard the boat.
Tran later submitted a claim to his insurance broker to collect the $400,000 policy limit on the boat, but State National Insurance Co denied his claim. Tran then sued the insurer in New Jersey state court, arguing that the Alexander II had suffered a leak that mandated a payout on the policy.
"As a result of the leak despite proper care of the seaworthy vessel, the ship suffered extensive property damage and lost valuable fishing gear," the lawsuit said, requesting $400,000 in damages for towing, salvage, loss of gear, loss of use of the ship, lost profits, storage charges and water damage. The civil suit is still pending.
Tran and Manh Nguyen, a man described in the indictment as his "right-hand man," were arrested on Wednesday and scheduled to appear in Camden federal court. Two crew members remain at large.
Each count in the criminal indictment carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or double the losses caused by the offense.
(Reporting by Terry Baynes. Editing by Peter Bohan)