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Men involved in viral shark-dragging case enter not guilty pleas

Left to right: Spencer Heintz, 23, of Palmetto, Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto and Robert Lee Benac, 28, of Bradenton are facing animal cruelty charges stemming from a viral video that shows a shark being dragged behind a boat on a rope as men laugh each time its body slams the water.
Left to right: Spencer Heintz, 23, of Palmetto, Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto and Robert Lee Benac, 28, of Bradenton are facing animal cruelty charges stemming from a viral video that shows a shark being dragged behind a boat on a rope as men laugh each time its body slams the water.
Published Jan. 10, 2018

TAMPA — The three men accused of dragging a shark behind a boat in a viral video that caused an outcry among animal rights advocates entered not guilty pleas in Manatee County on Wednesday.

The men were not in court and their lawyers entered the pleas on their behalf, attorney Stephen Crawford said by phone shortly after the brief hearing.

Crawford is representing Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto, who was captain of the boat. Also charged are Robert Lee "Bo" Benac III, 28, of Bradenton, and Spencer Heintz, 23, also of Palmetto.

READ MORE: Shark-dragging video case results in three arrests

Wenzel is a friend of MTV reality show Siesta Key star Alex Kompothecras, which pushed the video even more into the headlines. Another video surfaced that appeared to show Kompothecras shooting a hammerhead shark.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: FWC identifies boaters seen dragging shark in viral video

The dragging video first came to light in July after it was sent a celebrity shark hunter. Even he posted he had issues with how the shark was shown repeatedly smacking against the water as the men in the video laughed.

It took four months for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to investigate and bring charges. They determined the dragging took place on June 26 in state waters off Egmont Key, which put it in Hillsborough County's jurisdiction.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.