CLEVELAND (WJW) — Two men accused of cheating in a walleye fishing tournament on Lake Erie pleaded guilty on Monday.
Jacob Runyan, 43, of Ashtabula, Ohio, and Chase Cominsky, 36, of Hermitage, Pennsylvania, were each indicted in October on felony charges of cheating, attempted grand theft and possessing criminal tools, and a misdemeanor count of illegal animal ownership. They initially pleaded not guilty.
But on Monday, each pleaded guilty to a felony count of cheating and a misdemeanor animal ownership violation. The remaining charges were dismissed.
The pair is due for sentencing on May 11.
In the September 2022 tournament, anglers from several surrounding states competed for the heaviest walleye catches, according to authorities. The pair stood to win a prize of more than $28,000.
A tournament judge, however, noticed the fish caught by Runyan and Cominsky weighed more than they appeared to weigh. The judge sliced the fish open and inside were multiple weights, between 8 and 12 ounces, and several walleye filets. The pair was disqualified and told to leave the tournament.
Other anglers angrily confronted Runyan, while Cominsky quickly retreated to his truck and locked the doors.
In recent years, the pair had won a slew of fishing tournaments with cash awards and major prizes that included a fishing boat, in what some thought was the most incredible run of luck ever on Lake Erie. The Toledo Blade reported that the pair finished in first place in the three Lake Erie Walleye Trail events last year, pocketing tens of thousands of dollars, in addition to prizes from other contests.
“You have individuals who committed a fraud trying to obtain money. That’s a fraud in any context, whether it’s a fishing case or some Ponzi scheme,” Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez said in October.
Authorities suspected the pair of cheating in past tournaments but never found evidence of any crimes, Gutierrez said.
Organizers of the fishing tournament intend to use metal detectors and lie detectors in future tournaments.