Two 'amateur' fishermen pleaded guilty to stuffing their catches with weights during the September 2022 Lake Erie Walleye Trail Tournament:

Fishermen plead guilty to cheating at Ohio walleye tournament
By Cory Shaffer - March 28, 2023

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Two amateur fishermen on Monday avoided a trial on felony charges tied to a cheating scandal at a Cleveland walleye fishing tournament and pleaded guilty.

Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky pleaded guilty to cheating, a fifth-degree felony, and a fourth-degree misdemeanor of unlawful ownership of wild animals.

The men agreed to up to a three-year suspension of their fishing licenses and forfeited Cominsky’s Ranger bass boat worth $100,000 to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Steven Gall will ultimately decide how long to suspend their fishing licenses at a May 11 hearing.

Prosecutors dropped felony charges of attempted theft and possession of criminal tools as part of the deal struck minutes before the trial was set to begin.

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gallagher told Gall that in exchange for the plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of six months on probation. Gall can still send the men to prison or the county jail for up to one year.

If the men successfully complete their probation, prosecutors will not argue against an expungement of their conviction, Gallagher said.

Both men declined to comment to reporters after the hearing.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley told reporters after the hearing that, while cheating in a fishing in a tournament may sound trivial, the $28,000 grand prize represented a significant amount of money to the other anglers, many of whom worked blue-collar jobs.

“We’re hoping this conviction cleans up the sport of tournament fishing not just in our county and our state, but nationally,” he said. “People will see that if you cheat in these types of events, you will be held accountable.”

Runyan’s attorney, Gregory Gentile, declined to comment after Monday’s hearing. Attorney Kevin Spellacy said Cominsky took full responsibility for his role in the scheme.

“He’s extremely remorseful and looks forward to moving on with his life,” Spellacy said.

The charges stemmed from the pair scheming to rig the Lake Erie Walleye Trail Championship on Sept. 30. The event’s director discovered lead weights and walleye fillets stuffed into the bellies of the duo’s fish during the weigh-in at Cleveland’s Gordon Park.

Cellphone video of the moment the owner of the tournament cut the weights out of the men’s walleyes went viral and drew international media coverage.

Prosecutors were prepared to call more than 30 witnesses to testify had the case gone to trial.

Other anglers in tournaments dating back to November 2021 grew suspicious of Runyan and Cominsky, who went on a remarkable string of wins that the Lake Erie Walleye Trail’s website said was unprecedented.

O’Malley said Monday that his office could only hold the men responsible for what happened in this case.

“This is a good first step,” O’Malley said.