Three men who became the subject of a petition calling for their arrest after they filmed themselves gleefully dragging a dying shark behind their motorboat are now facing felony charges in connection to the cruel stunt.
South Florida officials handed two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty each to 21-year-old Michael Wenzel, 28-year-old Robert Lee Benac, and 23-year-old Spencer Heintz on Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The trio were at the center of a horrific viral video that surfaced in July and showed them towing a live shark from behind their motorboat while traveling at speeds of about 45 miles per hour. In the clip, which made the rounds on social media and prompted a popular petition calling on authorities to take legal action, the men can be heard laughing about how the shark was “already almost dead.”
“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,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Bo Rivard said in a press release.
The commission participated in a joint investigation with the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office that opened when the video first emerged in July. According to FWC spokesman Rob Klepper, the charges took so long to file because investigators scoured through over 60,000 pages of social media information that was turned over in response to search Warrants.
A fourth man who was aboard the boat when the video was shot “provided information and cooperated with investigators and is not being charged in this case,” Klepper said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott praised the work of the officials involved in arresting the animal abusers.
“Florida has no tolerance for this mistreatment, and I am proud of the hard work of FWC law enforcement during this investigation to hold these individuals accountable for their horrific actions,” he told WFTV.