HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Florida – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office announced charges against three individuals connected to a video of a shark being dragged behind a boat at high speed.
The charges resulted from a four-month-long investigation into the video and other disturbing images on social media involving shocking disregard for Florida’s natural resources.
“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.
During the course of the investigation, FWC officers confirmed numerous criminal violations, resulting in felony and misdemeanor charges.
Investigators conducted exhaustive research into the suspects’ social media activity, conducted numerous interviews and spoke with a number of subject matter experts on sharks.
The suspects and their charges are as follows:
Michael Wenzel of Palmetto, Florida faces 2 felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony), and 1 misdemeanor count of Illegal Method of Take – Shark (Second-degree misdemeanor).
Robert Lee Benac of Bradenton, Florida was charged with 2 felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony), and 1 misdemeanor count of Illegal Method of Take – Shark (Second-degree misdemeanor).
Spencer Heintz of Palmetto, Florida was charged with 2 felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony).
The public can help by reporting suspected violations to the FWC. To make a report, call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@MyFWC.com.
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