A couple days ago we started down the path of looking into National Bass Association and American Bass Fisherman, two long-dead tournament organizations from the 1970s. In the process of researching those pieces, I went down the George Oates rabbit hole. George Oates, as you now know from the previous two articles, started American Bass Fisherman and was accused in 1974 of rigging one of his tournaments. Today in The Fall of George Oates, we’ll dive deeper into this subject and shed some more light on it.
The story that I have always heard is that Oates fraudulently rigged one of his events and pocketed money from it through cash awards. Pretty simple and when you hear it from dozens of anglers who were around when it happened, it kind of sticks.
The story goes that Oates gets arrested at one of his events and that was the end of American Bass Fisherman.
When one starts down the path of researching bass fishing history, old books and magazines become the invaluable tools of the trade. One of my most valuable tools is a book published by Clyde Drury titled: Books of the Black Bass, An Annotated Bibliography & Checklist. When I first started off on this tangent, I reached for Clyde’s book to look up both organizations and their publications. What I found was the following:
“American Bass Fisherman – originally published by George H. Oates, Cocoa Beach, Florida. This magazine was preceded by the Florida Bass Fisherman, which was also owned by Oates. I believe that the first edition of the Florida Bass Fisherman was released in the spring or early summer of 1971. It was not yet a tournament organization. Starting with the Dec 1973 / Jan 1974 issue the magazine name was changed to American and Florida Bass Fisherman. I have two variations of the first issue under the new name. One shows on the cover, American Bass Fisherman Vol 1, and the other shows:
“American and Florida Bass Fisherman, magazines are otherwise the same. The first was sent around the country as a promotional item and the latter was sent to subscribers. Starting with the Feb/Mar 1974 issue the word Florida was dropped from the name of the magazine. For some reason this tournament organization was sabotaged repeatedly by unknown persons who didn’t want it to succeed. Because of some problems with a local tournament George was forced to sell both the magazine and the tournament organization. He sold out on Nov 19, 1976 and the organization continued under the leadership of several highly thought of angling personalities, including Lew Childre, the Speedstick man. On August 22, 1978 controlling interest was obtained by National Bass Association and this magazine also ceased to exist. My collection includes Vol, 1 No. 1, of American Bass Fisherman (2 variations mentioned above) and April/May 1974 through Jul/Aug 1978, which was the last issue. Also see: Florida Bass Fisherman.
Within this description of the magazine, Drury illuminates the lineage of the magazine and the organization. But two very curious passages hit me hard; “For some reason this tournament organization was sabotaged repeatedly by unknown persons who didn’t want it to succeed. Because of some problems with a local tournament George was forced to sell both the magazine and the tournament organization.”
These words struck me hard because the story, as I’ve always heard it, was Oates was convicted of fraud by the authorities and sent to jail. But Clyde was a man who wouldn’t say something if he didn’t believe in it. Also, the way he worded his statement sent bells ringing in my head. Who could these “unknown persons” be? Certainly, Ray Scott came to mind. So, instead of taking the accepted history of Oates as gospel, I did some more research on the man.
The first article I came across was from the Sarasota Herald Tribune from December 4, 1974. In that column, it states that Oates (president), along with Bernard Keene (vice president and tournament director), and Logan Fischer (field editor) were charged with tampering with a fishing tournament at Clermont Lake, FL, May 10, 1974. Unindicted co-conspirators were Robert Varnadore and Phillip Jay.
The charge alleges that the men caught bass in Osceola County between 6-9 May and brought them to Cocoa Beach, FL. The fish were then stored in a tank and delivered to Phillip Jay just before the start of the event. The fish were then transferred to Fischer and Varnadore, who then weighed them in and received prize money – some of which was returned to Oates.
It seems cut and dry, until you read the next couple paragraphs where you find out at the time of the charges that Phillip Jay was a former employee.
The next news clipping I found was again from the Sarasota Herald Tribune, December 7, 1974. In this column it’s reported that Phillip Jay, former employee of American Bass Fisherman, had been the whistleblower. At this time, Jay was the Editor and Publisher of American Angler Magazine out of Lufkin, TX.
Oates said in the column that the relevance of the charges was not important since he felt he would not be charged with the crime. What he was worried about what the black eye his organization would get and gaining the trust of the anglers back from the allegations. Of course, Oates and Keene both said they were innocent.
Then on January 9, 1975, the Sarasota Herald Tribune posted that the fraud charges against Oates, Keene, and Fischer had been dropped. The judge stated that the defense arguments did not amount to a crime.
The Playground Daily News on the same day published a more in-depth column on the hearing. In this writeup, the columnist stated that the case was dismissed in the pre-trial hearing, so the case never made it to trial. Also, in this column it was reported exactly what the conspirators were charged with.
Oates was charged with three counts of grand larceny and one count of conspiracy to commit grand larceny, while Keene and Fischer were charged with one count to commit grand larceny.
Onward in my research, lots of other articles were posted about Oates and American Bass Fishing in general. But there was a series of articles placed in various papers nationwide in 1975 that caught my eye. All were about Oates and American Bass Fisherman making it mandatory that all anglers in the top-10 take a lie detector test after each of their events. Oates’ reasoning was although most anglers were honest it only takes one bad actor to bring down a sport or organization.
Being unable to find anything else on the court case, I did a search of Florida court cases for Oates. In that search I found that the state of Florida took the case to the Florida Appeals Court. In April 1976, the case was reopened.
From reading the case file, it appears the reason the case was dropped was the judge in the initial pre-trial didn’t feel there were any “owners” who had been stolen from. The defense lawyers felt differently in that the “owners” were the tournament contestants who had put forth money to compete.
Here are the case notes from the court. Excuse the legalese.
ABBOTT HERRING, State Attorney of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit, in and for Brevard County, Florida, prosecuting for the State of Florida, under oath CHARGES that GEORGE OATES, LOGAN H. FISCHER, a/k/a `SKIP-FISCHER’, BERNIE KEENE on April 15, 1974, and thereafter to and including May 30, 1974, in the County of Brevard, and State of Florida, did then and there agree, conspire, combine, or confederate with GEORGE OATES, LOGAN H. FISCHER, BERNIE KEENE each with the other, or other persons not charged herein, to commit a felony, to-wit: GRAND LARCENY, to obtain from the true owners money of the value of $100.00 or more lawful currency of the United States of America by color or aid of fraudulent or false representation or pretense; that is, to collect entrance fees for a BASS FISHING CONTEST, offering large cash prizes, and to rig or control said contest by entering fish caught prior to said contest with intent to deprive or defraud said owners, the ENTRANTS, of said money, and in furtherance of said conspiracy the defendants, GEORGE OATES, LOGAN H. FISCHER, BERNIE KEENE and other uncharged co-conspirators committed one or more of the following overt acts:
- On May 6, 1974, and thereafter to and including May 9, 1974, GEORGE OATES, BERNIE KEENE and uncharged co-conspirators, PHILLIP JAY, ROBERT VARNADORE, caught a number of bass in Osceola County, Florida and brought said fish to 111 West Gadsden Lane, Cocoa Beach, Florida.
- On May 6, 1974, and thereafter to and including May 9, 1974, GEORGE OATES, BERNIE KEENE, PHILLIP JAY, ROBERT VARNADORE, placed bass caught in Osceola County, Florida in a holding tank set up at 111 West Gadsden Lane, Cocoa Beach, Florida.
- On the night of May 9, 1974, or early morning hours of May 10, 1974, BERNIE KEENE transported said pre-caught fish to the vicinity of Clermont, Florida and delivered said fish to PHILLIP JAY.
- On May 10, 1974, PHILLIP JAY received said fish from BERNIE KEENE, took said fish into a lake near Clermont, Florida and gave the same to LOGAN FISCHER and ROBERT VARNADORE.
- On May 10, 1974, LOGAN FISCHER and ROBERT VARNADORE turned said fish into the contest officials as being caught in said contest.
- On May 11, 1974, LOGAN FISCHER and ROBERT VARNADORE each won a prize and each received prize money in the form of a check.
- On or about May 30, 1974, ROBERT VARNADORE gave GEORGE OATES the sum of $250.00, one half of the prize which he received, said payment being made in Brevard County, Florida, contrary to sections 833.04 and 811.021(1)(a), Florida Statutes,”
The issue before us is whether count one of the information properly alleges a crime under Florida Statutes.
F.S. 811.021, F.S.A., provides in part:
“A person who, with intent to deprive or defraud the true owner of his property . . . takes from the possession of the true owner . . . by . . . false representations or pretense . . . any money . . . is guilty of larceny.”
One obtaining personal property by trick, device, or fraud, intending to appropriate it, is guilty of larceny on subsequent appropriation. A person is guilty of larceny who gets possession of money of another by means of fraud or trickery with the preconceived purpose to appropriate the money to his own use, on the theory that the fraud vitiates the consent of the owner who is held to retain constructive possession up to the time of conversion by the taker. Casso v. State, 182 So.2d 252 (Fla.App. 2d 1966).
One contention submitted by the Appellees is that the information fails to identify the victim of the larceny. We do not agree.
“The purpose for allegation and proof of ownership in a larceny prosecution is to show that the property belongs to one other than the accused.”
Wilcox v. State, 183 So.2d 555 (Fla.App. 3d 1966).
The information alleges, and we think sufficiently, that the victims of the larceny would be the entrants in the contest.
The Appellees point out that the sports world, with certain minor exceptions, is free of governmental regulation and argue that no one would indict an automobile racer if he should include an unfair additive in his gasoline or a helmet-slinging football player. While these examples are not before use and we do not specifically consider these issues, we do, however, feel that the time has come for society to refuse to accept any cheating scheme, such as alleged here, whether or not such scheme is connected with a “sporting” event.
The other points discussed by Appellees have been considered and found to be without merit.
Reversed and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
CROSS and OWEN, JJ., concur.
So, it appears the appeals court sided with the prosecution and the case would again go to trial. And this is where the information in the trial dries up.
I have a couple lawyer friends looking into the case for me but until I can find out what exactly happened, here are some other findings.
Phillip Jay went to American Angler in the fall of 1974. Of the magazines I have, which start with the November/December 1974 issue, his name is on the masterhead. Then in the Spring 1976 issue his name is no longer on the masthead.
As stated in yesterday’s piece, Dewey Yopp worked for Oates in 1976 and shortly after he started, he saw what that the pending lawsuit was dropping ABF participation and left to start National Bass Association.
About the same time, George Oates sold American Bass Fisherman to Don Williams, who ran the organization with Wayne Dyer until it was sold to Dewey Yopp and National Bass Association in August 1978. After all this, I’m still not sure what happened to Oates.
There was one thing that struck me in Oates’ claim in the first column reported by the Sarasota Herald Tribune. That was his comment, “It’s almost impossible to keep bass alive for a week like they claim.” That claim in itself is not only false but sounds a bit like he was trying to throw people off.
I hope you enjoyed this look back into some of the early bass organizations and the ups and down of the fledgling industry. If you would like more pieces like this, or not, please leave a comment below.