March 2 (UPI) — A Florida commercial fisherman faces 10 days in jail after pleading guilty to animal cruelty charges over a viral video showing him dragging a shark behind his boat at a high speed in 2017.
Michael Wenzel pleaded guilty Thursday to two first-degree misdemeanor charges for animal cruelty and using an illegal method to catch a shark. A felony count was dropped to a misdemeanor, his lawyer said, because a shark expert said the shark appeared to already be dead in the video.
Wenzel, 22, was one of four men who appeared in a video in July 2017 cheering and laughing as the boat in which they were riding dragged the shark by its tail. The video prompted public condemnation and an investigation by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office.
Also charged were Robert Lee Benac and Spencer Heintz. The charges against Heintz were dropped and Benac refused a plea deal and faces trial later this year.
Animal activists present at the sentencing weren’t satisfied.
“This is a privileged kid,” Marie Galbraith, a member of Florida Voices for Animals, told the Tampa Bay Times. “This is a slap on the wrist.”
Charles Britt, Wenzel’s attorney, said, “I have the distinct impression that anything other than a long-term prison sentence wouldn’t make these animal activists happy.”