Star of reality show 'Wicked Tuna' gets 4 years of probation

BURLINGTON, Vt. – A man whose fishing job was featured on the reality television show “Wicked Tuna” while he was receiving government disability benefits was sentenced on Wednesday to spend four years on probation and pay a $5,000 fine.

Paul Hebert, of Gloucester, Massachusetts, must also pay more than $53,600 in restitution as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

Hebert, 51, used to live in Barre. He was charged last summer with accepting more than $44,000 in Social Security and Medicaid disability benefits between 2010 and 2013. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges of Social Security and Medicaid fraud and was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Burlington.

The Department of Health and Human Services strongly criticized Hebert for what he did.

“It is outrageous that Paul Hebert pretended to be disabled and poor in order to collect Medicaid benefits while at the same time starring as a captain of a fishing boat in a national TV reality show,” HHS Boston special agent in charge Phillip M. Coyne said.

Hebert has been on “Wicked Tuna” since 2012. The National Geographic Channel show follows several Gloucester-based boats that try to land bluefin tuna, which can weigh hundreds of pounds and fetch tens of thousands of dollars.

Defence attorney Paul Volk said Hebert applied for the disability benefits before he got the job on the television show. He said he and Hebert think it’s a fair resolution to the case.

“It’s what we negotiated,” Volk said, noting Hebert’s probation was transferred to Massachusetts.

When Hebert was indicted, prosecutors said he first filed for Social Security disability in the spring of 2009, claiming on his application that he was unable to work at any job, could not walk properly and could not lift heavy weights or drive for more than short distances. He began receiving benefits in October 2010.