3 men face cruelty charges for shark-dragging video

By Danielle Haynes Follow @DanielleHaynes1 Contact the Author   |  Dec. 13, 2017 at 6:12 PM
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Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Florida wildlife officials filed charges against three men who appeared in a video earlier this year of a boat dragging a shark by its tail, prompting public condemnation.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office accused the three men of animal abuse Tuesday after a four-month investigation into the video.

In July, Miami charter fisherman Mark Quartiano posted a graphic video of a boat speeding through the ocean with a shark tied to the back, flopping around in the wake. The video panned to show three men pointing and laughing at the animal.

It's unclear if the shark was alive or dead in the video, but a photo posted to social media showed two men holding the mangled remains of the shark's body.

Quartiano said the men thought it was "funny" to tie up the shark.

"Even if the shark was dead, you don't do that," he said at the time. "It's totally disrespectful."

And Florida officials said it's criminal.

"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."

Prosecutors charged Robert Lee Benac, 28, of Bradenton, Fla., Spencer Heintz, 23, of Palmetto, Fla., and Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto, with two counts each of aggravated animal cruelty, a third-degree felony. Benac and Wenzel also each face one misdemeanor count of illegal method of take, shark.

State attorney Andrew Warren said prosecutors intend to hold the three men "accountable for having engaged in such senseless and unjustifiable animal cruelty."

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