Remember the video of the Florida fishing boat cowboys dragging a shark behind their boat? In what can only be described as a lesson to other ocean yahoos, investigators on Tuesday finally charged three men in connection with that viral video. FWC investigators and Hillsborough prosecutors spent four months on the investigation, which culminated with Tuesday’s arrests. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Rob Klepper said it took months to bring charges in part because they had to pore over 60,000 pages of social media information that was turned over to them in response to search warrants. Among the three men charged is Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto, who was captain of the boat and a friend of Alex Kompothecras, star of the MTV reality show Siesta Key. Wenzel faces two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty and one misdemeanor for using an illegal method to catch a shark. The felony counts are each punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine, although any punishment will likely be less than that maximum. Robert Lee “Bo” Benac III, 28, of Bradenton faces the same felony and misdemeanor charges as Wenzel. He is the son of Manatee County Commission chair Betsy Benac, while Wenzel is the son of the county planning director. The third man charged is Spencer Heintz, 23, also of Palmetto, who faces just the two felony charges. All three men will stand trial in Hillsborough County.
Later in the day video recorded Benac catching a black tip shark with hook and line — the only legal way to catch a shark in Florida — and then as it was pulled close to the boat, Wenzel shot it with a .38 revolver, the affidavit says. “After the shark is shot,” the affidavite notes, “all occupants are heard celebrating by laughing while Heinz yells, ‘Get it again! Get it again!’” He then shot at it three more times, and then they pulled it on board. But after that is another video showing Wenzel operating the boat while the shark is dragged across the water at a high rate of speed and the men are laughing, the affidavit says. “The State Attorney’s Office is committed to holding these men accountable for having engaged in such senseless and unjustifiable animal cruelty,” said Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren in a statement. You can read the full story in the Tampa Bay Times. The viral video outraged the internet due to the pleasure these men appeared to derive from their aberrant behavior. There’s also a good deal of evidence from social media posts to suggest that this isn’t their first foray into animal cruelty and fitting perhaps that the medium that they used to brag about their behavior is the one that became their downfall.