Shark-dragging suspect accepts plea deal

Hillsborough County

One of the Tampa Bay area men accused of dragging a shark in a viral video that sparked outrage across the country has pleaded guilty.

Michael Wenzel entered a guilty plea Thursday while appearing in front of a Hillsborough County judge, accepting the state’s offer. One of his felony counts has now been reduced to a first-degree misdemeanor charge. The second felony charge has been dropped.

Wenzel was sentenced to 11 months of probation and 10 days in the Hillsborough County jail. He will serve on weekends starting March 8 and will be released on Sundays. 

Wenzel also must complete 100 hours of community service. Half of those hours must be served at an animal shelter. His fishing license will be suspended for five years.

As Wenzel appeared in front of Judge Mark Wolfe, he appeared to be smiling. While announcing the plea deal, Judge Wolfe asked him, “is there something funny about this?”

Robert Benac, the other suspect who was facing felony charges of aggravated animal cruelty, rejected the state’s offer to reduce one of the two felony charges to a misdemeanor if he served 10 days in jail. Benac instead chose to go to trial on June 24. He is facing a maximum sentence of 10 years if found guilty on the felony charges he’s facing.

Benac and Wenzel’s charges stem from a disturbing video that was shared all over social media when it surfaced back in the summer of 2017. 

In the video, a shark could be seen flipping violently behind a speeding boat as the men in the video are seen laughing. 

One man laughed and pointed saying, “Look, it’s already almost dead.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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