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Suspects plead guilty in connection with Cleveland fishing tournament cheating scandal

Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky each admitted to charges of cheating and unlawful ownership of wild animals. Sentencing is set for May 11.

CLEVELAND — Just minutes before the start of their trial, two men instead decided to plead guilty in connection with a cheating scandal during a fishing tournament in Cleveland last year.

43-year-old Jacob Runyan and 36-year-old Chase Cominsky each admitted to charges of cheating (a fifth-degree felony) and unlawful ownership of wild animals (fourth-degree misdemeanor). As part of the deal, prosecutors agreed to dismiss additional felony charges of attempted grand theft and possessing criminal tools.

"This plea is the first step in teaching these crooks two basic life lessons," Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O'Malley said in a statement. "Thou shall not steal, and crime does not pay."

The case dates back to Sept. 30, when Runyan and Cominsky were competing at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament near North Marginal Road and Lakeshore Boulevard. The pair were initially declared the winners, but controversy soon erupted.

"The director of the tournament noticed Runyan and Cominsky's walleyes weighed more than they looked and sliced open the fish," the prosecutor's office recounted. "Ten weights were located inside the walleyes, eight weighing 12 ounces and two weighing eight ounces along with several walleye filets."

The incident was caught on video and shared across social media. Both Runyan and Cominsky were immediately disqualified and later arrested.

"The tournament hosted fisherman from several surrounding states that competed to see which team could catch five of the heaviest walleye fish in Lake Erie," the prosecutor’s office noted. "If Runyan and Cominsky had won this tournament, they would have received a total prize of $28,760."

Sentencing is set for May 11, but while Runyan and Cominsky could each technically face up to a year in prison, prosecutors agreed to instead recommend six months probation. As part of the agreement, the two also forfeited their fishing licenses for three years and surrendered Cominsky's boat, something O'Malley called "critical."

Still, others thought the punishment didn't go far enough.

"I wanted jail," Nate Lueders, a fellow angler who took part in the infamous tournament, said. "They committed multiple felonies, they should've gone to jail."

When reached by 3News for comment, Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament Director Jason Fischer said there will be new guidelines at competitions this year, including boat checks, metal detectors, and random inspections of fish caught by the top five finishers. Meanwhile, Lueders and others can now cast away.

"I want to see it move forward," Lueders said of the future of local fishing tournaments. "I want to see these guys, you know, get what they have coming, and the rest of us can move forward without cheating."

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