Shark dragger gets ‘slap on the wrist’ in Florida

A Florida commercial and charter fisherman has pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges and faces 10 days in jail over a video that shows him dragging a shark behind his boat at a high speed. The video went viral in the summer of 2017.

Michael Wenzel.

Michael Wenzel, 22, entered a guilty plea on Feb. 28 while appearing in front of a Hillsborough County judge, accepting an offer from the state that will reduce one of his felony counts to a first-degree misdemeanor charge and drop a second felony charge.

Wenzel was sentenced to 11 months of probation and 10 days in the Hillsborough County jail. He will serve on weekends starting March 8 and will be released on Sundays. He must also complete 100 hours of community service — half of which must be served at an animal shelter. His commercial fishing license will be suspended for five years.

Robert Benac, 29, the other suspect who was facing felony charges of aggravated animal cruelty, rejected the state’s offer to reduce one of the two felony charges to a misdemeanor if he served 10 days in jail. Benac instead chose to go to trial on June 24. He is facing a maximum sentence of 10 years if found guilty on the felony charges he’s facing.

Charges against Spencer Heintz, 23, the third man on the boat at the time of the incident, were dropped in May 2018.

The video footage of the incident went viral on Instagram in July 2017 after it was shared by charter fishing captain Mark “The Shark” Quartiano. He reposted the video on his Instagram feed after receiving it along with a photo of the shark torn to pieces.

“This is just really sick, one of the most horrific things I have seen in 50 years of professional sport fishing,” Quartiano said at the time.

Animal rights activists in the state are reportedly unsatisfied with the punishment.

“This is a privileged kid,” Marie Galbraith, a member of Florida Voices for Animals, told the Tampa Bay Times. “This is a slap on the wrist.”

About the author

Samuel Hill

Samuel Hill is associate editor for National Fisherman. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine where he got his start in journalism at the campus’ newspaper, the Free Press. He has also written for the Bangor Daily News, the Outline, Motherboard and other publications about technology and culture.

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