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Shark Dragging Men Charged with Animal Cruelty

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office comes through with some satisfying justice.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) announced charges of felony animal cruelty against Michael Wenzel, 21, Spencer Heintz, 23, and Robert Lee Benac, 28. (Left to right)

Months ago, a sickening video was cycling around social media circles all over Florida and throughout the fishing community. It pictured a shark, tail-roped, being tossed around in the wake of a boat moving at a high rate of speed. The suspects in question can be seen watching, smiling and laughing at the horrific event. “Look, it's already almost dead,” says one man pointing and laughing at the shark. The graphic footage is difficult to watch.

Warning: This video contains graphic content. Viewer discretion advised.

It was not long before the FWC was repeatedly tagged and contacted. This launched a four month investigation into the footage. Plenty of other atrocities committed by these men arose via social media. The most notable of which was from Michael Wenzel, who dubbed himself "FWC's Most Wanted." Most of the incriminating photos were from his own instagram account, where he posed with endangered species like goliath grouper, the spotted eagle ray, a great white pelican and more. He could even be seen pouring beer down a goliath groupers mouth. One of the more unsettling images shows Wenzel holding what looks to be a dead/dying dog, with the caption "Found this dog floating down the river," followed by a disturbing hashtag, "#sharkbait."

One of the comments below the dog post stated "Yeah he was dead sadly. But Michael didn't let the meat go to waste."

When pressed about why it to so long to charge three individuals who were clearly guilty of being serial animal abusers, the FWC responded, "Investigations that result in charges take time. Our investigators went through more than 60,000 pages of evidence acquired from search warrants, conducted numerous interviews and put in countless hours of research during the course of this investigation. Four elements of the crime that were determined by FWC investigators include:

    1. We determined that the shark was alive at the time it was being dragged.

    2. We determined that the suspects intentionally dragged the shark until it was dead.

    3. The fact that the shark is not a domesticated animal does not factor into the determination of whether or not the violation occurred.

    4. The protracted and cruel nature of the act of dragging the shark behind the vessel at high speed for an extended period caused repeated infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering on the animal."

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 expert shark biologists.

“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.” said Andrew H. Warren, State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit.

The case even got the attention of Florida Gov. Rick Scott. "I was outraged by the sickening video of a shark being horribly abused earlier this year," Scott tweeted, "and I am proud of the hard work of (FWC) law enforcement during this investigation."

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), online or text

"Wenzel has a history of pushing boundaries."

The suspects and their charges are as follows:

Michael Wenzel (DOB 06/07/1996) of Palmetto, Florida

    • 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 (DOB 04/2/1989) of Bradenton, Florida

    • Two felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony).

    • One misdemeanor count of Illegal Method of Take – Shark (Second-degree misdemeanor).

Spencer Heintz (DOB 10/14/1994) of Palmetto, Florida

    • Two felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony).

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