TAMPA — The 2-year saga of the men who dragged a shark behind a boat while firing a gun at it ― and then told the world about it by posting it to social media ― has finally come to an end.
Robert Lee “Bo” Benac III, the last man still facing charges in the June 2017 incident that generated online outrage, pleaded guilty on Thursday to two misdemeanor charges in a Hillsborough County courtroom.
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The Bradenton man was one of three originally charged in the case and the second sentenced to 10 days in jail. Charges were dropped against a third man.
But under the terms of the plea deal, Benac avoided being convicted of a crime. He once faced felony charges, but pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of aggravated cruelty to animals and violation of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rules.
The judge withheld adjudication and sentenced Benac to 10 days in the county jail and 11 months of probation. Benac was also ordered to pay a $2,500 fine and perform 250 hours of community service ― 125 of which will be served at an animal shelter.
His fishing license was also revoked for three years.
Benac’s attorney, Justin Petredis, said his client took the deal in part because the videos the men uploaded to Facebook and Instagram were widely shared.
“We were confident in what we could do and what we could show, but at the end of the day you can never be 100 percent confident in the jury system ...,” Petredis said. “That was a worry, that the anger and emotions of the jury would outweigh where we were hoping common sense would take over.”
Petredis did all the talking in court. Benac just answered the judge’s questions. The attorney said his client was nervous during the hearing.
On June 26, 2017, Benac, Spencer Heintz, Michael Wenzel and another man departed from Wenzel’s waterfront home in Palmetto on a 22-foot Aquasport boat and took a trip into the Gulf of Mexico.
They posted photos and videos of that infamous day on social media, authorities said. That included a video of the men dragging a shark by a rope from the boat while they laughed. There was also a photo of Benac posing with a speargun while Wenzel held a blacknose shark with a spear sticking through its head. And there was a video of Wenzel shooting a shark Benac caught with a .38-caliber revolver.
The videos went viral when celebrity shark hunter, Mark “The Shark” Quartiano, saw them and expressed his horror and revulsion.
The fish and wildlife commission determined the shark dragging took place near Egmont Key, which means any crimes took place within the jurisdiction of Hillsborough County. The three men were arrested in December 2017.
In May 2018, charges were dropped against Heintz, who is now 35. In February, Wenzel, now 23, pleaded guilty to guilty to two misdemeanor charges in exchange for 10 days in jail and probation in a similar plea deal. He piloted the boat.
Benac gets credit for a day he spent in the county jail when he was arrested. He has nine days left on his jail sentence, which can be served over weekends.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Mark Wolfe asked Benac if he can start reporting to jail Friday evening. He said yes.