Man takes plea deal in shark dragging case, reports say

A man accused of participating in a viral video showing a shark being dragged at a high rate of speed behind a boat has accepted a plea deal, according to reports.

WFLA News Channel 8 reported Michael Wenzel pleaded guilty in Hillsborough County court in exchange for 10 days in jail, served on weekends, 11 months of probation and 100 hours of community service.

Half of his community service hours are required to be at an animal shelter, WFLA reported.

His jail sentence will begin March 8, according to ABC Action News.

Wenzel was originally charged with felony aggravated cruelty to animals but pleaded guilty to a first-degree misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty, according to Spectrum Bay News 9.

A second count of felony aggravated cruelty to animals was dropped, according to ABC Action News.

Michael Wenzel MUG
Michael Wenzel Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office

Wenzel will also have to pay a $2,500 fine and his fishing license will be suspended for five years, Bay News 9 reported.

In addition to standard questions concerning the plea agreement, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Mark Wolf reportedly asked Wenzel if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Wenzel allegedly smiled, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“Is there something funny about this?” Wolf said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Wenzel said no.

The second man facing charges in connection with the video, Robert Benac, is expected to take his case to trial June 24, according to WFLA.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials declined to comment, sighting the ongoing case against Benac.

Charges were dropped against a third man last year.

The video of the shark dragging went viral, spreading across social media in the summer of 2017 and sparking an outcry from the public and later an FWC investigation.

Sara Nealeigh covers what’s happening in the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto, Florida for the Bradenton Herald. She previously covered breaking news for the Herald after moving to Florida from Ohio in 2016.