October 13, 2022
Two anglers accused of cheating in a walleye tournament last month on Lake Erie now face felony charges in Ohio as a result.
Chase Cominsky and Jake Runyon have been indicted in Cuyahoga County on charges of cheating, attempted grand theft, possessing criminal tools and unlawful ownership of wild animals. The first three charges are felonies.
The charges stem from a major fishing cheating scandal that erupted at a Lake Erie boat ramp near Cleveland on Sept. 30 at the championship event of the Lake Erie Walleye Trail. Cominsky and Runyon are accused of stuffing lead weights into the belly of a walleye to increase their weight total. Videos of tournament director Jason Fischer discovering the lead weights during the weigh-in have gone viral on social media.
When lead weights were discovered in the belly of the walleye in question, Fischer cried out “We've got weights in fish!,” and the rest of the fish were opened up on viral videos captured by onlookers using their mobile phones. One of the videos posted on Facebook by Gene Merck has been viewed 4.9 million times and shared more than 42,000 times.
The two men were indicted by a Cleveland grand jury this week. In addition to the charges, authorities also seized a boat, trailer and fishing gear.
The story has now gone viral yet again, with media outlets from the New York Times to Sports Illustrated to the Associated Press and many others posting stories about the ongoing scandal.
The charges were announced in a statement by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley on Oct. 12, 2022:
"A Cuyahoga County grand jury has returned an indictment charging Jacob Runyan, 42, and Chase Cominsky, 35, for Cheating, Attempted Grand Theft, Possessing Criminal Tools, and the Unlawful Ownership of Wild Animals during the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament in September 2022."
Specifically, the statement notes that the counts of cheating, attempted grand theft, and possessing criminal tools are all fifth-degree felonies, punishable by up to 12 months in prison and up to $2,500 each in fines. Unlawful ownership of wild animals is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $250.
"I take all crime very seriously, and I believe what these two individuals attempted to do was not only dishonorable but also criminal," said O’Malley in the statement. "I would like to formally thank the officers with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Hermitage Pennsylvania Police Department, the Mercer County District Attorney's Office, and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission for their quick actions and their execution of a search warrant resulting in the seizure of criminal tools, including Defendant Cominsky’s boat and trailer."
According to the statement, an investigation conducted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Sept. 30, 2022, "found that Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky competed at the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament near North Marginal Road and Lakeshore Boulevard in Cleveland. The tournament hosted fishermen from several surrounding states that competed to see which team could catch five of the heaviest walleye fish in Lake Erie. If Runyan and Cominsky had won this tournament, they would have received a total prize of $28,760."
As we have pointed out previously, cheating scandals aren't anything new in fishing circles.
While it remains to be seen how the alleged criminal behavior of these two anglers turns out after court proceedings, hopefully, the story and its viral nature in this era of cell-phone video and social-media platforms will help reduce unscrupulous attempts to cheat in fishing derbies of the future.