By: Associated Press
January 12, 2018
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Three Florida men have pleaded not guilty to charges connected to a video of a shark being dragged behind a speeding boat.
21-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.
In a Tampa Bay Times report, Wenzel's attorney, Stephen Crawford, said none of the men appeared at Wednesday's hearing in Hillsborough County court. Their lawyers entered the not guilty pleas on their behalf.
The video went viral in late July after a Miami sport fisherman criticized it on social media. Investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission determined the dragging took place June 26 in state waters off Egmont Key.
By: Aubrey Brown | WCTV Eyewitness News
December 13, 2017
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office announced charges against three men in connection to a video that shows a shark being dragged behind a speeding boat.
Michael Wenzel, 21, Robert Lee Benac, 28, and Spencer Heintz, 23, each face two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty. Wenzel and Benac have also been charged with 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," FWC chairman Bo Rivard said in a statement. "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."
FWC said the charges stemmed from a four-month long investigation into the video and "other disturbing images on social media." FWC officers confirmed numerous criminal violations.
Governor Rick Scott released the following statement Tuesday after the charges were announced:
"I was outraged by the sickening video of a shark being horribly abused earlier this year. Florida has no tolerance for this mistreatment, and I am proud of the hard work of FWC law enforcement during this investigation to hold these individuals accountable for their horrific actions."
The video, which surfaced in July, angered people across the state. The clip gained attention after South Florida shark hunter Mark Quartiano reposted the video on his Instagram page, adding the hashtags #sowrong and #notcool.
*WARNING: The video is unedited and may not be suitable for all viewers*