CLEVELAND (WJWs) — Two men who pleaded guilty to cheating in a walleye fishing tournament on Lake Erie were sentenced to jail Thursday.
Jacob Runyan, 43, of Ashtabula, Ohio, and Chase Cominsky, 36, of Hermitage, Pennsylvania, were each indicated in October on felony charges of cheating, attempted grand theft and possessing criminal tools after it was discovered they had loaded their walleye with weights in an attempt to win the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament the previous month.
Each was also indicted on a misdemeanor count of illegal animal ownership.
Both Runyan and Cominsky pleaded guilty in March to the cheating and misdemeanor animal ownership charges. The remaining charges were dismissed.
“I just wanna apologize to everyone,” Cominsky said Thursday.
Runyan called it “the most ignorant decision I’ve ever made in my life” in his apology to the court and “to everybody.”
Judge Steven Gall of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court suspended a 30-day jail sentence on the misdemeanor charge in favor of a 10-day jail sentence. That will be followed by 1-1/2 years of probation for the felony cheating charge. If Runyan or Cominsky violate probation, they could face a year in prison.
The judge also ordered each to pay a $2,500 fine, half of which can be suspended if they make a donation to a charitable organization focused on fishing and children.
The boat they used in the tournament, valued at $130,000, had been forfeited to the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Their fishing licenses were also suspended for three years — the longest suspension possible.
The damage to Runyan and Cominsky’s public image is more permanent, attorneys said.
“They’re forever gonna be branded with the labels of cheaters and thieves,” said Assistant County Prosecutor Andrew Rogalski. “After today, they’ll be convicted felons. And nobody should feel bad for them, because they deserve this and they earned this.”
Attorney Gregory Gentile said both men know they’ll never again compete in a fishing tournament.
“There’s seemingly endless public humiliation for these guys. … These guys are going to have to suffer this forever; when they go on a date, when they find a job. When they get Googled, this case is gonna show up forever.”
The accusations against Runyan and Cominsky stem from a September 2022 walleye fishing tournament, during which the two were found to be using weights to make their catches appear heavier.
Footage from the moment they were exposed — which quickly went viral on social media — had been played for the court.
“We got weights in fish,” the tournament’s overseer, Jason Fischer, could be heard announcing to the crowd of competitors, who soon devolved into an angry, cursing mob.
Runyan and Cominsky were frontrunners in the tournament, up for “team of the year.” They stood to win more than $28,000 from various prize pools.
“This was the end of a long season where Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky had a curious run of success — such that other officials in that tournament suspected foul play,” Rogalski said.
Fischer, addressing the court, said the pair won nine of the 19 events he’s run in his career. The next-winning team had two wins, he said.
Authorities suspected the pair of cheating in past tournaments, but haven’t found any evidence, prosecutors said.
“I guess we’ll never know about the other ones,” Fischer said.
Fischer claimed the tournament lost its permits for the Cleveland Metroparks this year, which became prohibitively expensive following the scandal.
“Cleveland Metroparks didn’t want the drama you just saw,” he said.
Metroparks spokesperson Jacqueline Gerling, in response, said Thursday the parks system did not deny the tournament a future permit, and it “would not prohibit the event from taking place.”
Future tournaments are expected to utilize metal detectors.