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Three charged in Florida shark-dragging video

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Three men were charged with felony animal cruelty Tuesday in the dragging of a shark behind a high-speed boat in Florida, an incident captured on videos that led to worldwide condemnation.

Charged were Michael Wenzel , 21, of Palmetto; Robert Lee Benac, 28, of Bradenton; and Spencer Heintz, 23, of Palmetto.

In the videos, taken off the Gulf coast, the live shark is dragged at high speed in the boat’s frothy wake, as the men on the boat laugh and joke.

“During both videos, all occupants can be seen and heard laughing while the shark is being dragged across the top of the water at high speed,” states a report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which conducted the investigation. “At the end of [the] recording Wenzel states, ‘I think it’s dead.’”

The video went viral, generating outrage and calls for investigations from around the world.

A separate video emerged about the same time showing a man firing a handgun at point-blank range into the gills of a hammerhead shark. The man was widely identified in press and social media accounts as Alex Kompothecras, a friend of Wenzel’s and star of MTV’s reality show “Siesta Key.”

Kompothecras denied being involved in the dragging incident but made no statements about the shooting of the hammerhead.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s investigation in the shark dragging took four months and involved reviews of social media accounts, numerous interviews and consultation with shark experts. The shark experts said it was likely the shark was alive through most of its ordeal. The commission worked with the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office.

“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 Bo Rivard, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “….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.”

Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement applauding the charges.

“I was outraged by the sickening video of a shark being horribly abused earlier this year,” he said. “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.”

Third-degree felonies for aggravated animal cruelty are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

In addition to the felony charges, Wenzel and Benac faces misdemeanor charges of illegal method of take – shark, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

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Original author: Fleshler

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Friday, 25 May 2018

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