The president of the Idaho Aquarium is going to federal prison for a year. What did he do to merit so long behind bars? Something really fishy, as it turns out.
Ammon Covino decided he needed additional stock for his aquarium in Boise, Idaho. In particular, he wanted more lemon sharks and spotted eagle rays. He found a supplier in Florida who could get him what he wanted.
The trouble was, he didn’t bother to get any of the proper permits before he had the sharks and rays shipped to Idaho. Ignoring that pesky detail turns out to be a crime. The supplier even reminded Covino that he needed the proper paperwork.
Covino’s response: “Who give a s***, man?” He insisted the supplier send him the sharks and rays anyway.
That’s the moment things went south for Ammon Covino and another aquarium executive, co-founder Christopher Conk. What they didn’t know was that the supplier was working with federal authorities and all their communications were being recorded.
Covino’s decision to skirt the laws of the state of Florida and the federal Lacey Act earned him a year and a day in prison for conspiring to purchase and transport wildlife from the Florida Keys to Idaho. Because his transaction was intended for the benefit of the business, the Idaho Aquarium itself was also criminally charged and pled guilty.
Covino and Conk could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison.
The Troubled Covino Family Aquariums – Boise, Portland, Austin
The name Covino is well known in the world of aquariums, but not necessarily for good reasons. Each of the family’s three facilities have significant issues that might cause you to raise your eyebrows.
At the Boise aquarium, in addition to the marine life trafficking conviction, several other problems have been brewing over the past few months. The Idaho Humane Society and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are currently investigating the facility in the wake of complaints about substandard animal care. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently issued the facility a notice of alleged safety and health hazards.
Ammon Covino and his brother Vince, also co-founded the Portland Aquarium in Oregon. Here too, allegations are rife that animals have been ill-treated. According to The Oregonian, over 200 marine animals died at the Portland Aquarium during the spring of 2013 of starvation, infections, high temperatures, inter-animal attacks and other unknown causes.
This information came from a former aquarium employee who provided a “death log” covering the period Feb. 18 to May 16, 2013. During this time frame it is also alleged that the Portland Aquarium routinely postponed needed emergency treatment to cut costs. These allegations have prompted the Oregon Humane Society to investigate this facility.
The Covino family was preparing to open its third aquarium in Austin, Texas, just as Ammon Covino was being sentenced on December 2. Even in Austin, some say the Covinos have been sidestepping legal requirements.
Reports indicate the Austin facility began construction before it had the required permits in place. Now that the building is complete, it’s also not clear that they have yet obtained the requisite occupancy permit that will allow visitors on the premises. Those pesky permits seem to be a repeated stumbling block for this family.
Sentenced By a Judge Who‘s Been Around the Block
The judge in this case, U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez, knows his way around the block when dealing with this kind of offense.
When Covino asked at his sentencing hearing that he not be sent to prison because his wife is due to deliver their child in April, the judge told him the apologies he was making in his presentation were better directed to that unborn child than the court.
Conk’s presentation didn’t go much better. He told the judge he’d never been to Florida until he arrived in Key West for a hearing this case. Conk noted how beautiful it is.
“It won’t be beautiful for much longer if people keep stealing sharks and other wildlife,” Martinez reportedly responded. Oh, snap. The judge pretty much nailed it.
In accordance with the judge’s order, neither Ammon Covino nor Christopher Conk may have anything to do with the Idaho Aquarium when their prison sentences are complete. That’s for the best, wouldn’t you say?
Photo credit (all images): Thinkstock