Anglers accused of cheating in Lake Erie walleye tournament plead not guilty
Cleveland — Two men accused of stuffing five walleyes with lead weights and fish fillets during a lucrative fishing tournament on Lake Erie pleaded not guilty to cheating and other charges on Oct. 26.
Jacob Runyan, 42, of Broadview Heights, Ohio, and Chase Cominsky, 35, of Hermitage, Pa., made no comments during their brief court appearances in Cleveland. Their attorneys declined to comment about the case after the hearing.
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez also declined to comment, referring questions to a spokesperson.
The cheating allegations surfaced Sept. 30 when Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament director Jason Fischer became suspicious because Runyan and Cominsky’s fish were significantly heavier than walleyes of that length typically are. An angry crowd at Gordon Park in Cleveland watched Fischer cut the walleyes open and announce there were weights and fish fillets stuffed inside them.
An officer from the Ohio DNR confiscated the fish as evidence.
Runyan and Cominsky were indicted earlier this month on felony charges of cheating, attempted grand theft, possessing criminal tools, and misdemeanor charges of unlawfully owning wild animals (Ohio Outdoor News, Oct. 28).
Both Runyan and Cominsky were released Oct. 26 on personal bonds of $2,500. Their next court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 9.
The first place prize in the Lake Erie Walleye Tournament Trail tournament totaled around $28,000.
Authorities said the fillets allegedly stuffed inside the pair’s walleyes were ostensibly to keep the lead weights from banging together and making noise.
As part of the possession of criminal tools charge, Cominsky’s Ranger Pro Fisherman fiberglass boat, trailer, and all of the boat’s contents were confiscated at his home in Hermitage on Tuesday, Oct. 11.
Pete Acker, the District Attorney in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, said that a detective with his office worked with the ODNR to execute a search warrant and to seize the trailer, boat, and all of its contents as evidence.
The search warrant affidavit states that the seizure of the boat and trailer was necessary “to preserve them as evidence of criminal violations and because they are subject to forfeiture.”
The affidavit shows that the five fish had eight, 12-ounce lead weights and two, 8-ounce lead weights in them.
In addition to providing details about the alleged cheating at the LEWT Championship, the affidavit also states that Cominsky and Runyan were investigated in April by the Rossford (Ohio) Police Department for allegedly cheating in another fishing tournament (the Rossford Roundup near Toledo.) The affidavit states that the Rossford police completed their investigation and then turned the case over to a prosecutor, who declined to file charges.