A pair of fishermen caught in a cheating scandal in which they inflated the weight of fish in a Lake Erie tournament pleaded guilty on Monday to a felony charge for cheating in a competition and a misdemeanor for unlawful ownership of wild animals. The deal struck by Jacob Runyan and Chase Cominsky was part of a plea arrangement with prosecutors in Cuyahoga County Court in Ohio.
Last October, the two men were charged with three felonies a piece, each of which could have meant a one-year prison sentence, as well as a misdemeanor that could have led to a 30-day jail sentence.
The anglers’ trial was set to begin on Monday, but as Cleveland.com reported, their attorneys and prosecutors agreed to a last-minute deal to avert the procedure. More than 30 witnesses were set to testify for prosecutors, who will recommend that Runyan and Cominsky face six months of probation in lieu of prison. So long as Runyan and Cominsky stay out of trouble, their convictions can be expunged from their records. The duo, however, will face multiyear suspensions of their fishing licenses, and they’ll need to forfeit a bass boat worth about $100,000 to state authorities.
Runyan and Cominsky became infamous in the wake of the Lake Erie Walleye Trail fishing tournament held last fall. They were the apparent winners of a $28,000 prize after the total weight of their five fish beat the submissions of more than 60 two-person teams. But something seemed off or, more accurately, heavy. Their fish appeared unnaturally bulging and when a tournament official cut one open, weights and flesh from other fish poured out.
As captured in a highly watched video, the revelation sparked outrage from other competitors, and Runyan and Cominsky feared for their physical safety:
Criminal charges over cheating in sports are extremely rare. Ohio’s law on cheating in competition has seldom been used. However, it was employed in State v. DeLong (1984), when a man fixed the outcome of a bingo machine by placing balls into his shirt instead of calling out the number.