Two men accused of stuffing fish with lead weights and fish fillets in an attempt to win thousands of dollars in an Ohio tournament last year pleaded guilty this week 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 two anglers, Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky, 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.
As part of this week’s 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 in May. Prosecutors plan to recommend a sentence of six months’ probation.
“This plea is the first step in teaching these crooks two basic life lessons,” Cuyahoga county prosecutor Michael O’Malley said on Monday in a statement. “Thou shall not steal, and crime does not pay.”
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.
The pair appeared to be on their way to winning the contest until the cheating was discovered, and would have received a little over $28,000 in prizes.
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 was not enough evidence to charge them.
Ross Robertson, a fishing writer and professional angler, told the New York Times last year that increased prizes had caused a surge in cheating. He was not surprised that tournament organisers had been suspicious of Runyan and Cominsky’s catch.
“It would be like saying a 5ft-tall person weighs 500lbs, but you look at him and he looks like an athlete,” Robertson said. “These fish were so bulging.” – Guardian