Michael Wenzel pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor animal crulety in an unusual animal abuse case that only came to light when a video of a shark being dragged behind a boat in the waters off Tampa Bay went viral.
Wenzel admitted Thursday to two misdemeanor crimes of animal cruelty and using an illegal method to catch a shark - but only after striking a deal with prosecutors. He was sentenced to just 10 days in the Hillsborough County Jail. He also has the option to serve his sentence on weekends with plus 11 months probation.
Wenzel, 22, showed no remorse as he stood in the court, dressed in a loud blue suit as Hillsborough Circuit Judge Mark Wolfe quizzed Wenzel about his understanding of the plea deal before him. Wenzel smiled when asked whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
"Is there something funny about this?" Judge Wolfe asked.
"No, sir," Wenzel replied.
Wenzel made no public apology and left court quickly after the brief hearing.
A second man charged in the case, Robert Benac was also offered a similar plea deal as Wenzel but rejected it. He will face trial later this year. Charges against a third man, Spencer Heintz, were previously dropped.
Wenzel's lenient sentence understandably outraged animal rights activists who watched from the courtroom gallery.
"This is a privileged kid," said Marie Galbraith, a member of Florida Voices for Animals. "This is a slap on the wrist. He hasn't been educated about what he's done."
The Daily Jaws posted about the incident when the footage of the shark being dragged behind the boat at speed attracted widespread attention on social media in the summer of 2017. It showed a group of men dragging a shark by a rope behind a boat and laughing each time its body bounced off the water. Idiots.
An investigation into the footage found that Wenzel had captained the boat. In another video, he was shown shooting a shark that Benac had caught at close range with a handgun. Shark experts said the action would have resulted in pain and suffering to the animal.
Further evidence included a photo of Wenzel holding a shark with a spear sticking out of its head. Prosecutors said it was that Benac had captured the shark using a spear gun but Wenzel was happy to pose with the unfortunate creature.
In addition to the time in jail and probation sentence, Wenzel will serve 100 hours of community service. A prosecutor asked that 50 of those hours to be served at an animal shelter or animal abuse facility.
Still unknown is whether such an institution would allow Wenzel to work around animals.