Two men accused of stuffing fish with lead weights and fish fillets in an attempt to win thousands of dollars in an Ohio fishing tournament last fall pleaded guilty Monday to charges including cheating.
The cheating allegations surfaced in September when Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament Director Jason Fischer became suspicious when the fish turned in by Jacob Runyan, of Broadview Heights, Ohio, and Chase Cominsky, of Hermitage, Pennsylvania, were significantly heavier than typical walleye.
A crowd of people at Gordon Park in Cleveland watched as Fischer cut the walleye open and found weights and walleye fillets stuffed inside.
CBS Cleveland affiliate WOIO-TV says the tournament hosted fishermen from several surrounding states who competed to see which team could catch five of the heaviest walleye fish in Lake Erie.
As part of a plea deal, Runyan and Cominsky pleaded guilty to cheating and unlawful ownership of wild animals and agreed to three-year suspensions of their fishing licenses. Cominsky also agreed to give up his bass boat worth $100,000.
Prosecutors agreed to drop attempted grand theft and possessing criminal tools charges.
Both men are scheduled to be sentenced May 11. Prosecutors plan to recommend a sentence of six months’ probation and later ask for an expungement of their convictions if they successfully complete their probation, said James Gallagher, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor.
The plea is Cominsky’s first step toward moving on with his life and taking full responsibility, said his attorney, Kevin Spellacy. A message seeking comment was left with Runyan’s attorney.
According to search warrant affidavits, five walleye contained lead weights and fillets. Officers from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources confiscated the fish as evidence.
They would have received a little over $28,000 in prizes for winning the tournament.
Both men will remain out on bond until their sentencing, WOIO says.
Court records also said that Runyan and Cominsky were investigated near Toledo in the spring of 2022 after being accused of cheating in a different walleye tournament. According to a police report, a prosecutor concluded that although the men may have cheated, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge them.