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Politics

FWC Charges 3 in 'Disturbing' Shark-Dragging Incident

December 13, 2017 - 6:00am
Clips from the July shark video
Clips from the July shark video

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office announced charges against three individuals connected to the video of a shark being dragged behind a boat at high speed. 

The individuals charged are -- 

Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto. Two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty (third-degree felony); one misdemeanor count of illegal method of take - shark (second-degree misdemeanor).
 
Robert Lee Benac, 28, of Bradenton. Two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty (third-degree felony); one misdemeanor count of illegal method of take – shark (second-degree misdemeanor).
 
Spencer Heintz, 23, of Palmetto. Two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty (third-degree felony).
 
The charges resulted from a four-month investigation into the video and other disturbing images on social media "involving shocking disregard for Florida’s natural resources," Rob Klepper, public information coordinator of FWC's Law Enforcement Division, said in a written statement Tuesday night.

Klepper said aggravated animal cruelty is punishable by up to 30 years in prison and a $10,000 fine; second-degree misdemeanor by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Posted in July, the disturbing 11-second video shows the shark hitting the surface of the water and flipping around before the cameraman turns the lens to show three others on the boat, laughing and pointing at the animal. One man can be heard saying, "Look, it’s already almost dead."

The posting went viral overnight. Public outrage was immediate. So was the cry to sign a Change.org petition demanding the men responsible have their fishing licenses permanently revoked, serve time in jail and complete 1,000 hours of community service "to teach these young men to treat our Florida wildlife with respect." And the FWC quickly launched its investigation.

Even Gov. Rick Scott weighed in, saying he wanted laws to prevent “such inhumane acts."

“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.”

Added Andrew H. Warren, state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit, “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 confirmed the criminal violations that resulted in felony and misdemeanor charges. Investigators conducted extensive research into the suspects’ social media activity, conducted numerous interviews and spoke with a number of shark experts.

FWC officers are asking the public to help by reporting suspected violations: Call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

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

Comments

It is a true sign of the Nature-hating, dominionist BS that Republicans cannot even look at an act of DEPRAVED cruelty and NOT turn it into political NONSENSE. At a guess... ALL THREE of these demonic pieces of garbage and the brother/sister parents that spawned them were Republicans and theses pathetic commenters are feeling defensive and inferior and hiding it with their own spew of trash. No wonder animals suffer in this world unseen by so many. These people are garbage. Do the same to them.

Regarding these mindless idiots and the shark. Good. I can see their parents shaking their heads at all this hullabaloo over a fish. Except for the 28 yr old. Most of us are grown up by then. Money wont bother them so fine them the $10,000. Parents steal that much every couple weeks. Probably pay it out of a slush fund intended for sex crimes but - hey- they can evidently use it for anything they want. And 30 years a bit harsh for a fish. The Japs kill close to a million a year for their fins and throw the still living fish back in the water. But give them a year in county and let them sit and ponder for a while. Maybe miss their senior prom. That would sting. Regarding Roy, heck I would have voted for him. Forty years ago? No proof? Really? Yet, like the Hilldabeast, a flawed candidate. I wouldn't mind cutting the fin off Mitch and throwing him back over the side. My favorite Roy quote... "Far as I am concerned we could abolish every amendment after the first ten". Now that's strong leadership!

It is coming, there will be a rush of Dems elected now and in the future thanks to the stupidity of 45...

I'm glad they nailed these chumps........................But no Roy Moore story this morning, what gives? ;^)........................Fact is repubs dodged a bigger bullet had they elected him and shows how a downward spiral the party has become when it can't even win in Alabama..................................... Looks like the Southern strategy has taken the party to new moral lows and showed many whom claim to be Christian certainly don't practice it........................ As the part shrinks as the last decent repubs leave, I hope a moderate right like there use to be long ago before the Evangelical and racist pandering started so rich repubs could pass tax cuts for the wealthy and massive corporate welfare they at doing again thanks to you chumps voting for them as they continue to screw you.

sometimes the wheels of justice turn slowly...should have known there would be nothing about Moore, SSN is a group of RPOF hacks if you did not already know...you know.

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