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Shark dragging suspects appear in court

Spencer Heintz.jpg
Robert Benac.jpg
Wenzel.jpg
Shark being pulled behind boat
Posted at 12:19 PM, Jan 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-10 12:19:00-05

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WWSB) - The three men charged in connection to a video showing a shark being dragged behind a boat at high speed appeared in a Hillsborough County courtroom on Wednesday. 

The three men entered not guilty pleas. Another court date has been scheduled for March 6th. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison.

A four-month long investigation into the video led the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office to charge these three men:

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)

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigation began on July 24, 2017. Investigators say the shark in the video was shot and dragged in the waters of Egmont Key in Hillsborough County on June 26th. In addition to the shark being dragged, investigators say it was also unlawfully taken by speargun. They say many of the events were documented on Snapchat.

FWC 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.

They say a fourth individual that was on the boat the day of the incident provided information and cooperated with investigators. He is not being charged in the case.

The FWC released the following statement about the arrests: "All of us at the FWC share the public’s concern over the video. We work every day to conserve our state’s precious natural resources, so violations like this are deeply disturbing to all FWC employees. This type of behavior is not representative of conservation-minded anglers around the world."