An eleven-second cell phone video, which showed a shark being dragged backwards behind a speed boat, was the recipient of mass outrage and disgust when it went viral back in July of 2017.
In fact, we featured it in our special Moron of the Month Award category as a way of highlighting bad fishing and animal cruelty practices. You can see the original story and video here.
Three Florida men have now been charged in relation to that video after a four month investigation by Florida wildlife officials. Twenty-one-year-old Michael Wenzel and 23-year-old Spencer Heintz of Palmetto, along with 28-year-old Robert Lee Benac of Bradenton, each face two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty. Wenzel and Benac also face a misdemeanor count of illegal method of taking a shark.
“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.”
“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,” said Andrew H. Warren, State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit.
“Because they first shot the shark, it warranted two separate charges for animal cruelty,” said Robert Klepper, public information coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Law Enforcement.
A third-degree felony animal cruelty charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The misdemeanour charge was laid after investigators discovered a second incident had occurred on the same day while examining social media for evidence.
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