Two fishermen wrapped up in a scandal stemming from a tournament on Lake Erie late last month pleaded not guilty Wednesday to cheating and other charges.
Jacob Runyan, 42, of Broadview Heights, Ohio, and Chase Cominsky, 35, of Hermitage, Pennsylvania, made no comment during their brief court appearance in Cleveland, Ohio. Their attorney declined to comment on the case after the hearing.
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Runyan and Cominsky were accused of stuffing five walleye with lead weights and fish fillets during the lucrative tournament. The allegations emerged when tournament director Jason Fischer became suspicious because the men’s fish were significantly heavier than walleye of that length typically are.
The men faced backlash from the crowd and a video of the incident went viral. The two were indicted earlier this month on felony charges of fraud, attempted theft, possession of criminal tools and misdemeanor charges of illegally possessing wild animals.
“I take all crime very seriously, and I believe what these two individuals attempted to do was not only dishonest, but criminal,” Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley said in a statement earlier on the month.
LAKE ERIE FISHING TOURNAMENT ENDS IN CHEATING CONTROVERSY
“I would like to formally thank the officers of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Hermitage, Pennsylvania, Police Department, Mercer County District Attorney’s Office and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission for their swift actions and their execution of a search warrant that resulted in the seizure of criminal tools , including defendant Cominsky’s boat and trailer.”
According to search warrant affidavits, the five walleyes contained a total of eight 12-ounce lead weights and two eight-ounce weights and the fish fillets. Officials from the Ohio Division of Natural Resources, the Hermitage Police Department and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission seized a boat, trailer and fishing gear belonging to Cominsky on Tuesday. The statement said the anglers used the boat during last month’s tournament.
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The two anglers would have taken home $28,760 in prizes for winning the tournament.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.