Two fishermen accused of illegally stuffing their fish with weights at a tournament on Lake Erie last September have pleaded guilty to cheating charges, months after previously maintaining their innocence in the highly-publicized matter.
Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky pleaded guilty on Monday to a felony charge of cheating and a misdemeanor for unlawful ownership of wild animals, according to the Associated Press. The plea came as part of an arrangement with Cuyahoga County (Ohio) prosecutors and came at the last minute before the two anglers were set to be put on trial in Cuyahoga County Court on Monday.
Cheating allegations against Runyan and Cominsky first emerged on Sept. 30 of last year when The Herald out of Sharon, Pa. reported that tournament officials at a Lake Erie Walleye Trail Championship event discovered lead weights and fish fillets inside of the walleye that the two anglers submitted for the tournament. The competition director grew suspicious of the weight of the walleye and cut open the fish in front of an increasingly angry crowd.
The pair, which was on top of the leaderboard until the tournament director cut open their fish, was disqualified. A different team was crowned as the the tournament’s winners, earning a first-place prize of approximately $28,000.
In October, Runyan and Cominsky were indicted on three felony charges and one misdemeanor charge, which could have resulted in each fisherman receiving a multiple-year prison sentence. The duo originally pled not guilty to the charges, but changed their tune in Monday’s court appearance.
The plea agreement will allow Runyan and Cominsky to face probation, with the possibility of having their records expunged so long as they remain out of trouble, according to Sportico. The pair will also have their fishing licenses suspended for three years and Cominsky will be forced to give up his bass boat worth approximately $100,000.
Runyan and Cominsky had previously been at the center of cheating allegations during a different event near Toledo in the spring of 2022, per the AP. However, prosecutors determined that there was not enough evidence to charge the two men with a crime.