This past July, a group of young Florida bros filmed themselves dragging a live shark behind a boat until the poor thing disintegrated into a bloody pulp. The crew of numbskulls then sent the clip to Miami's infamous shark hunter, Mark "the Shark" Quartiano, because they thought the famed fisherman would find the footage entertaining.
Instead, Quartiano turned the video over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), which finally announced late Tuesday that the alleged animal abusers have been formally charged with crimes. The Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office has charged Michael Wenzel, 21; Spencer Heintz, 23; and Robert Lee Benac, 28, with two felony counts each of animal cruelty. Wenzel and Benac have also been hit with a misdemeanor charge for capturing a shark using an illegal method.
“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," FWC Chair Bo Rivard said in a news release yesterday. "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 three men live on the Gulf Coast — Wenzel and Heintz are from Palmetto, and Benac lives in Bradenton — but Quartiano's initial post about the video sparked a statewide manhunt for the would-be shark killers. Amateur sleuths immediately ID'ed Wenzel and his crew as early suspects thanks to his prodigious Instagram presence.
As New Times and multiple other media outlets noted in July, Wenzel and his friends had a habit of posting images of themselves holding dead or abused animals, including a captured pelican and what they claimed was a dead dog they planned to use as shark bait. Fishermen and conservationists across the state lamented that Wenzel's crew epitomized Florida's subculture of "jackass" anglers, who catch fish, kill birds, and chug
Wenzel's conduct had even previously attracted the attention of federal investigators: According to the Miami Herald, the U.S. government began probing whether to arrest Wenzel in 2015 on possible violations of the Migratory Bird Act but found there wasn't enough evidence to bring the case to trial.
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Well, apparently filming yourself murdering a shark clears that evidentiary bar. Honestly, it's surprising it took investigators this long to bring charges against the crew: Animal-rights advocates have passed Wenzel's name around online since the clip surfaced months ago. The FWC says it spent four months looking into the footage.
"During the course of the investigation, FWC officers confirmed numerous criminal violations, resulting in felony and misdemeanor charges," the state said in yesterday's news release. "Investigators conducted exhaustive research into the suspects’ social media activity, conducted numerous interviews, and spoke with a number of subject matter experts on sharks."