On Thursday, two fishermen at the center of a scandal that shocked the world of competitive fishing were sentenced to 10 days in jail. Jacob Runyan, age 43, of Ashtabula, Ohio, and Chase Cominsky, age 36, of Hermitage, Pennsylvania, received their sentences in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, along with a year and a half of probation.
The duo was indicted in October of 2022 on felony charges of cheating, attempted grand theft, and possessing criminal tools. The men also faced a misdemeanor count of illegal animal ownership. In March, they both pleaded guilty to the felony cheating and misdemeanor unlawful ownership of wild animals counts. Judge Steven Gall reduced the typical 30-day jail sentence on the misdemeanor charge in favor of a 10-day stint, which will then be followed by the probation term stemming from the felony. If either man violates probation, he could face one year in prison. The remaining felony charges of attempted grand theft and possessing criminal tools were dismissed.
In addition to a jail sentence, Gall ordered the men to each pay a $2,500 fine, half of which can be suspended if they make a donation to a charitable organization that focuses on fishing and children. The boat they used in the tournament, owned by Cominsky and valued at approximately $130,000, was forfeited to the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Furthermore, their fishing licenses were suspended for three years, the maximum penalty allowable by law.
Cominsky and Runyan were accused of cheating after winning a tournament at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail Championship event in September of 2022. Shortly after their victory, tournament director Jason Fischer cut open the winning catch and discovered that the partners had added lead weights and fish fillets to make the walleyes heavier. Fischer had noticed that the walleyes appeared to weigh more than how they looked. When he sliced the fish open, Fischer found 10 weights inside the walleyes, including eight 12-ounce weights and two eight-ounce weights. Several walleye fillets were used to keep the weights in place.
A dramatic scene that went viral on social media unfolded as Fischer exposed the pair’s fraud to a crowd of fellow competitors and extracted the weights. Fishermen from several surrounding states participated in this Cleveland-based contest to see which team could reel in five of the heaviest walleye in Lake Erie. The winners were to be awarded a grand prize of $28,760. Cominsky and Runyan were immediately disqualified and forced to forfeit their first-place purse. Fischer could be heard saying “we got weights in fish” as onlookers devolved into an angry, cursing mob. Runyan remained silent as the ruse was uncovered and the two men were asked to leave. The Cleveland Metroparks Police Department responded to the scene while the Ohio Department of Natural Resources launched an investigation that led to the boat and its trailer being confiscated from Cominsky’s Pennsylvania residence in early October.
Assistant County Prosecutor Andrew Rogalski described the situation as “the end of a long season where Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky had a curious run of success.” Fischer confirmed that the men had won nine of the 19 events he’d run during his career. Meanwhile, the next-winningest team had only two wins. Cominsky and Runyan were considered frontrunners in this tournament due to their past success and were up for “team of the year” recognition.
Authorities suspect Cominsky and Runyan of cheating in previous events, but haven’t found any evidence to hold them accountable. Prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley stated that he had “no doubt that these two crooks cheated in multiple tournaments over the past several years.” O’Malley believes that “these two deserve to have their fishing license suspended for life” and “should be banned from every fishing tournament.” It’s likely that the public humiliation and scrutiny the two face will be enough to prevent them from ever entering competitive fishing meets again.
As a result of this incident, all future tournaments held on Lake Erie are expected to utilize metal detectors to check for foreign objects inside fish being weighed. Polygraph tests are already required for winners to determine whether they are lying about their catch. Other anglers are randomly selected to deter wrongdoing and prize money is usually subject to a passing score.
Matt Markey, a columnist for the Toledo Blade, estimated that Cominsky and Runyan had earned more than $400,000 in winnings and endorsements before joining the Lake Erie Walleye Trail Championship field. In the fall of 2021, the pair won the Blaster Walleye Fall Brawl, Walleye Slam fishing derby, and Lake Erie Walleye Trail Championship all within one week. In an interview with Cleveland.com, Runyan guessed that he and Cominsky would share $306,000 for the “unprecedented victories.” The two-man team’s Walleye Slam prize package included a brand new Warrior fishing boat worth over $150,000. They reportedly sold the boat and split the proceeds.
This isn’t the first red flag indicating suspicious activity from Cominsky and Runyan. The anglers were disqualified for failing a polygraph test after winning the Fall Brawl. Although Runyan denied the failure and argued the results, tournament officials retained the grand-prize $125,000 Ranger boat. Runyan told Cleveland.com that “having [their] names drug through the mud, and smeared on social media” harmed his reputation among walleye fishermen throughout the region. He insisted that he was concerned with more than “just the loss of a very expensive boat [they] had rightfully won.”
According to Markey, fall fishing tournaments on Lake Erie give away about $800,000 in cash and prizes. However, it remains unclear how this scandal will affect future events and ethical participation. Fischer claimed that the Lake Erie Walleye Trail Championship lost its permits for the Cleveland Metroparks in 2023, which became prohibitively expensive in the aftermath of this crime. Even though spokesperson Jacqueline Gerling maintained that the parks system did not deny the tournament a future permit and “would not prohibit the event from taking place”, Fischer posited that “Cleveland Metroparks didn’t want the drama you just saw.”
Cominsky and Runyan — https://www.post-gazette.com/life/outdoors/2022/10/12/fishing-tournament-cheating-scandal-anglers-charged-jacob-runyan-chase-cominski-lake-erie-walleye-trail/stories/202210120134
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