Fishing tournament winner hopes alleged fraudsters rocked by cheating scandal get ‘maximum punishment’




CNN

One of the winners of last weekend’s Ohio fishing tournament hopes two alleged cheats will face the maximum penalty in the cheating scandal that has rocked the competitive fishing world.

“I hope they get it for everything they’ve done,” said Steve Hendricks, who along with his teammate won Team of the Year after the two apparent cheaters were disqualified.

Hendricks noted how important the contests are to many anglers.

“That’s what they like to do,” Hendricks told CNN in an interview Tuesday. “And they’re trying to do a great job and it’s a shame that some elected officials come in and ruin it all. So I hope they get the maximum.”

The would-be winners of the nearly $29,000 prize were kicked out of the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament after discovering their fish were loaded with lead weights and fish fillets, a moment documented in several viral videos shared on social media.

“They took a fish that should have weighed about four pounds and put it on the scale and it said eight,” Hendricks told CNN Tuesday. “And then the other five scored and it was 35.”

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources collected evidence from the incident Friday and is preparing a report for the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, spokeswoman Stephanie O’Grady told CNN.

“Because this is an open investigation, we have no further comment at this time,” he wrote in an email to CNN.

Tournament director Jason Fischer confirmed in a Facebook post Monday night that tournament officials had turned over all information related to the incident to authorities and sent records and a statement to the Ohio Division of Natural Resources.

Fischer told CNN he was immediately suspicious when one team’s fish weighed nearly twice what they weighed in the Cleveland tournament.

The ship’s walls looked like they should weigh about 4 pounds each, but the total weight indicated they would have to be at least 7 pounds each, he said.

“I thought, there’s no way,” he said. “I could even hear people muttering, ‘no way, no way’.”

“I physically felt the fish, I felt hard objects inside the fish,” he said. In the viral video, Fischer, surrounded by competitors, cuts open the fish with a knife and pulls out what he says is a lead ball. Jacob Runyan, a member of the two-man gang that allegedly committed the fraud, remained silent as he watched a video Fischer shared with CNN.

Runyan and his teammate, Chase Cominsky, were set to win the $28,760 prize, Fischer told CNN. The prize money in each tournament it organizes comes from the entry fee each angler pays to compete.

Runyan and Cominsky did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Lead weights and fish fillets were found in the group's catch.

“Everybody was freaking out,” Hendricks said Tuesday. “It’s a shame it had to happen.”

Fischer, who hosts about eight tournaments a year, has done a “great job” of keeping the competition “legitimate,” Hendricks said. But the scandal has been an “eye-opener”, and he believed that in future competitions will have to use x-rays or cut fish in the first five bowls to ensure fair play.

“This is a rare thing,” he added, saying that “99.9% of the team” that competes doesn’t cheat. “They’re a great group of guys doing what they love, and it’s a shame they have to deal with this.”

In a statement Monday, Fischer said the tournament would learn from the scandal and “make some changes to tournament fishing that protect the integrity of all circuits.”

“We will fix this. We’re going to start implementing new rules in weigh-ins and boat checks,” Fischer said. “We’re going to work hard this season and learn from you about the protections you want to see in our series.”