Three Accused in Shark-Dragging Video
The charges arose after a four-month investigation that was kicked off by a video of a shark being dragged behind a boat went viral on social media.
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY – Three Manatee men were charged Tuesday (Dec. 12) in connection with a video that showed a shark being dragged behind a boat, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.
Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto; and Robert Lee Benac, 28, of Bradenton, were charged with two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty, a third-degree felony, and one count of illegal method of take – shark, a second-degree misdemeanor. Spencer Heintz, 23, of Palmetto, was charged with two counts of aggravated animal cruelty.
The charges resulted from a four-month long investigation into the video, which showed a shark being dragged behind a boat at high speed, and other disturbing images on social media involving “shocking disregard” for Florida’s natural resources, the FWC said.
“As we’ve said since this video and other images came to light, these actions have no place in Florida, where we treasure and conserve our natural resources for everyone,” said Commission Chairman Bo Rivard. “We appreciate the patience and support of the public as our law enforcement investigators worked with the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office to identify a number of serious violations that will be brought to the courts for adjudication. It is our hope these charges will send a clear message to others that this kind of behavior involving our fish and wildlife will not be tolerated.”
Andrew H. Warren, state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit, said, “The State Attorney’s Office is committed to holding these men accountable for having engaged in such senseless and unjustifiable animal cruelty. We thank the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for their work in investigating these crimes, and we stand with them, along with Florida’s fishing and hunting communities, and all those who cherish our precious natural resources, in condemning the torture of our marine wildlife.”
During the course of the investigation, FWC officers said they confirmed numerous criminal violations, resulting in felony and misdemeanor charges. Investigators said they conducted exhaustive research into the suspects’ social media activity, conducted numerous interviews and spoke with a number of subject matter experts on sharks.
Photo shows, from left, Michael Wenzel, Robert Benac, and Spencer Heintz.
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