By Dakin Andone and Zoe Sottile, CNN
One of the winners at an Ohio fishing tournament this past weekend hopes two alleged cheaters face the maximum penalty as a result of the cheating scandal that’s rocked the competitive fishing world.
“I just hope they get them for everything they can for what 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 much the competitions mean to a lot of anglers.
“That’s what they love to do,” Hendricks told CNN in an interview Tuesday. “And they’re out there trying to do a great job and it’s just unfortunate that a select few can come in and ruin all that for you. So I hope they get the max.”
The would-be winners of the nearly $29,000 prize were disqualified from the Lake Erie Walleye Trail tournament after it was discovered their fish were stuffed with lead weights and fish fillets — a moment documented in several viral videos shared on social media.
“They picked up a fish that should have weighed about four pounds and they set it on the scale and it said eight,” Hendricks told CNN Tuesday. “And then they put the rest of their five in and it came up to 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, spokesperson Stephanie O’Grady told CNN.
“As this is an open investigation, we have no further comment at this time,” she wrote in an email to CNN.
Jason Fischer, the tournament’s director, confirmed in a statement on Facebook Monday night that tournament officials had turned over all information related to the incident to authorities and submitted records and a statement to the Ohio Division of Natural Resources.
Fischer previously told CNN he was immediately suspicious when one team’s fish weighed almost twice what he expected they would at the Cleveland championship weigh-in.
The walleye in the bucket looked like they should each weigh around 4 pounds, but the total weight indicated they would have to be at least 7 pounds each, he said.
“I thought, there’s just no way,” he said. “I could also hear the crowd grumbling, like ‘no way, there’s no way.'”
“I physically felt the fish, I could feel hard objects inside the fish,” he said. The viral videos show Fischer, surrounded by competitors, slice open the fish with a knife and pull out what he said was a lead ball. Jacob Runyan, one member of the two-person team who allegedly cheated, stood by silently watching in one 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 at each tournament he hosts comes from the entry fee each angler pays to compete.
Neither Runyan nor Cominsky responded to CNN’s request for comment.
“Everybody was going nuts,” Hendricks said Tuesday. “It’s just a shame that, that had to happen.”
Fischer, who hosts around eight tournaments throughout the year, has done a “great job” working to keep the competition “legit,” Hendricks said. But the scandal has been “an eye-opener,” and he speculated that in the future competitions might have to use X-rays or cut open the fish in the top five boats to ensure fair play.
“This is a rare thing,” he added, saying that “99.9% of the group” competing does not cheat. “It’s a great group of guys out there doing what they love, and it’s just a shame we had to deal with this.”
In his statement Monday, Fischer said the tournament would learn from the scandal and “make some changes in tournament fishing that protect the integrity of all circuits.”
“We will fix this. We’ll start by implementing new rules at weigh-ins and boat checks,” Fischer said. “We’ll work hard this off-season and learn from you all about what safeguards you want to see in our series.”
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