The three men in a viral video showing a shark being violently dragged behind a speeding boat have been charged with animal cruelty, among other charges, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and prosecutors from the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.
Michael Wenzel, 21, Spencer Heintz, 23, and Robert Lee Benac, 28, were charged with numerous criminal violations, including both felony and misdemeanor charges. The three men have each been charged with two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty. Wenzel and Benac will face an additional misdemeanor charge of illegal method of take—shark, a law pertaining to how sharks may be fished.
“I was outraged by the sickening video of a shark being horribly abused earlier this year,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement. “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 FWC says that investigators have conducted relentless research into the suspects' social media activity in addition to speaking with numerous shark experts.
“We appreciate the patience and support of the public as our law enforcement investigators worked with Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office to identify a number of serious violations that will be brought to the court for adjudication,” FWC Commission Chairman Bo Rivard told Tampa Bay ABC affiliate WFTS.
Rivard said he “hopes these charges will send a clear message to others that this kind of behavior involving fish and wildlife will not be tolerated.”
The video, which was initially sent to South Florida shark hunter Mark "The Shark" Quartiano by Michael Wenzel, went viral after Quartiano posted it to his Instagram account with the hashtags #sowrong and #notcool.