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Nancy Smith

250,000 Petition for Justice in Shark Abuse; FWC Probe Still Incomplete

August 22, 2017 - 6:00am
Credit: Carlos R. Munoz
Credit: Carlos R. Munoz

The state investigation into the alleged abuse of marine life off Manatee County in July -- most prominently, a live shark dragged to death behind a speedboat -- was still incomplete Monday afternoon.

A month after the incident was recorded and posted on social media by one of the fishermen, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)  still has nothing new to say.

"The investigation is open and active and moving forward," FWC spokesman Robert Klepper told Sunshine State News. But he also said he is "unable to provide a timeline" for completion.

This "nothing new here" report comes on the same day organizers of a Change.org petition drive, led by petition starter Dan Dodsworth, delivered the document  with 250,000 signatures to the Manatee County Building Department in Bradenton.

I Beg to Differ

It was specifically addressed to Klepper; Ed Brodsky, state attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit; the Florida Senate; Florida House; and Gov. Rick Scott.

The petition singles out Michael Robert Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto, "and his accomplices in this video." Wenzel was identified as one of the fishermen dragging the shark and the one of four who posted the video on Facebook. The petition calls for him and his friends on the boat to serve 1,000 community-service hours under the FWC's supervision.

The petition further states --

"This act of violence is criminal per the Florida Statute Chapter 828. We expect charges to be pressed as per law. The public is growing more concerned as no charges have been pressed yet.

"828.12 section 2 states that a person who intentionally commits an act to any animal which results in the cruel death, or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering, or causes the same to be done, is guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in S.775.082 or by a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.
S.775.082 covers a wide variety of punishments, including imprisonment."

It's difficult to understand what's taking the one agency in state government used to dealing with wildlife abuse so long to complete this investigation. It includes the luxury of video evidence of the shark dragging. Of photographs of other creatures on display, from a goliath grouper to a pelican -- posted on social media. And, if these knuckle-draggers have been engaging in this kind of behavior for some time -- as some who know them have reported on social media -- surely there are easily locatable witnesses for FWC to tap.

Besides Wenzel, Facebook friends identified another fisherman shown in the video as Robert Lee ‘Bo’ Benac. 

These are well-connected young men. Wenzel’s father is Robert Wenzel, Manatee County Planning Section manager; Benac’s mother is Betsy Benac, chairwoman of the Manatee County Commission. Neither parent returned my phone call in two attempts.

"These guys have pull," said Manatee resident David Bell. "It will be interesting to see if their mommies and daddies can pull strings and get them off."

By their strong show of disgust over the behavior of Wenzel and friends, Floridians have shown they want their wildlife treated with respect and humanity. That's certainly a big positive.

And the video caught the attention of Gov. Rick Scott -- even before he knew about the petition. The governor issued a letter July 31 to FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski condemning the actions in the video and urging that regulations and statutes be reviewed "to ensure such inhumane acts are strictly prohibited."

While I don't believe the FWC is dragging its feet, waiting for this incident to cool down and go away quietly, I do think the agency already knows it isn't going to find for a penalty as stern and deserving as the majority of Floridians want and expect.

But I'm still hopeful the Legislature can increase specificity and press up the penalties in the law. Let's see what happens next session.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

The question is who/what will these predators prey on next.

FWC and government officials bought and paid for by 1-800-askgary. If these acts were done by a regular citizen they would've been crucified. This whole thing stinks with corrupt paid off politicians.

These thugs should get the book thrown at them. Clearly there is a pattern on animal abuse here and bullying. These creeps prey on the weak and defenseless, and are a potential danger to your society. Michael Robert Wenzel and another fisherman shown in the video as Robert Lee ‘Bo’ Benac.  They need to do time to reflect on what they have done instead of their parents coughing up and paying a fine. What a pair of total losers.

It's all about who you know. If it was just a weekend warrior they would throw the book at them

This is not just boys being boys. These are entitled idiots, who are abusing and killing innocent animals, not for food or sport, but for attention and pomp on social media. They do not belong fishing, hunting or on the water in FL. until they are dealt with and appropriately rehabilitated. If that is even possible due to the heinous acts they have been involved in. Bottom line, it is inhumane.

There's a difference between fishing and animal abuse, Brenda. And this goes far beyond abusing a shark. Did you not see the picture of them abusing the pelican? Two guys had the pelican's wing spread out as far as they would go and held the pelican off the ground by the tips of his wings. The third guy had the beak of the pelican forced open as wide as it would go (I wonder if he broke it's jaw). The guys were smiling as they posed for the picture. That is sick! Who knows what other animals they have abused -- a dog, cat, maybe even a manatee that two of their parents serve on the board to protect. They should lose their positions too because the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

This makes me sick! They should endure the very same abuse they inflicted on those poor animals. Their parents must be sooooo proud to have raised such fine, upstanding young men......ABSOLUTELY PATHETIC!!!

This is not "News", it's a "lynch party": what we used to do in the "old days" to Cattle Rustlers; It's very much akin to "Tear down those Confederate Statues ! ! ! (How about getting OFF the "bandwagon" "SSN"?!?!? What with all the "cat ladies" and "millenials", there's NO more room for fake news people to "pile on").

You may think it's a lynch party;however, this is not one act. These are multiple abuses on animals. If you do not see this, then you are part of the problem. How would you feel if your pet was used as shark bait as clearly shown in photos. Would you have the same opinion? It's people like you that are just as scary as these guys who are clearly guilty. Or are you a buddy if theirs who is trolling the net. Get a life! Pathetic moron!

Betcha got a butterfly tattoo on your ankle, just above your Birkenstock. Get a life! Pathetic moron!

leave it to this racist idiot from NY to comment on "lynch parties" from the porch of his trailer park... wrong is wrong, and they should be dealt with accordingly. These is news and appropriate commentary for real Floridians, people who grew up in and care about this state and its people...

You're right, this isn't a news story. It's commentary. Opinion. When you see the "I Beg to Differ" logo, that's my column signature. Sorry, C, but I plan to do more on toughening crimes against wildlife laws.

I have been fishing for some time now, never lucky enough to get to fish Florida water yet but never have I seen anyone drag a shark or any fish at those speeds. The POS's track record also shows a history of abuse, cruelty and intentional disregard for humane actions. There needs to be an example set that this kind of behavior will not be toolerated. At the least 500hrs of community service working with marine and wildlife for each involved person I believe would be a good starting point. I don't think jail time is the right direction but paying the cost of tyhe investigation And court costs is a fair "fine also.

What was done was wrong. A quick poorly structured response could be twisted to the harm of our fishing and hunting based industries. The action needs to be punished, don't get me wrong, BUT let's make sure that actions don't start the state down the road to unintended consequences.

Correct. Its sounding a bit over the top. This was a dumb thing to do, and they should lose their fishing licenses at least, but lets not act like dragging a shark should be some jailtime offense. It isn't. Sharks are fished out of Florida waters every day. Some are fished right up on the shore in front of tourists, where they die on the sand. There seems to be a few who want to go overboard (pun intended) on this.

Putting a water pipe in a mantees mouth, keeping a bull shark captive in the family's swimming pool, using a dog as bait, shooting sharks in the water, pouring beer into a grouper and the gills of a hammerhead...would you really call this over the top for that behavior? Think again. These are criminals. Check out the law before you say over the top. Read more about their history and better educate yourself!

It goes to show that abuse of animals in Florida isn't being taken nearly seriously enough. Not solely in Florida but everywhere. Needlessly harming animals is animal abuse, whatever the reason for it, including so-called recreational fishing. Commercial fishing, too, for that matter. All of the nutrients we need in order to thrive can be obtained more healthfully, humanely, and environmentally responsibly from plant sources.

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