March 2 (UPI) – A Florida-based commercial fisherman faces 10 days in prison for pleading guilty to animal cruelty over a viral video of him dragging a shark behind his boat at high speed in 2017.
Michael Wenzel pleaded guilty Thursday to two first-degree administrative charges for cruelty to animals and using an illegal method to catch a shark. The felony charge was kept to a minimum, according to his lawyer, as the shark expert said the shark in the video was already dead.
Wenzel was also sentenced to 11 months probation and 100 hours of community service. His fishing license was suspended for five years.
Wenzel, 22, was one of four men who appeared on video in July 2017, applauding and laughing as the boat they rode dragged the shark by the tail. The video drew public condemnation and an investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office.
Also indicted are Robert Lee Benak and Spencer Heinz. The charges against Heinz have been dropped, and Benak has pulled out of the plea deal, and he faces trial later this year.
The animal rights activists present at the sentencing were unhappy.
“This is a privileged child,” said the Tampa Bay Times by Marie Galbraith, a member of Florida Animal Voices. “It’s a slap in the face.”
Charles Britt, Wenzel’s attorney, said: “I have a clear impression that nothing short of a long prison sentence would make these animal advocates happy.”