Aquarium operators jailed for fish trafficking


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Two of the operators of the Idaho Aquarium in the US have been sentenced in court for conspiring to harvest, transport and sell Spotted eagle rays and Lemon sharks for exhibit at the aquarium.

Ammon Covino (40) president of the Idaho Aquarium and also one of its founders, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison, followed by a term of supervised release of two years. He was also barred by the Court from any employment during the period of supervised release that involves the possession, display, transportation, exhibition, purchase, or sale of wildlife.

Christopher Conk (40), the aquarium's secretary, who co-operated with investigators, received a reduced sentence of four months in prison followed by two years of supervised release for his role in bringing the sharks and rays to Idaho. He will also forfeit the truck used to transport the fish from the airport. Reportedly, Conk had previously pleaded guilty to smuggling protected coral.

Over a period of several months in 2012, Covino and Conk engaged in a conspiracy to purchase and transport wildlife from the Florida Keys to Idaho for exhibit at the Idaho Aquarium in Boise. The wildlife included Spotted eagle rays and Lemon sharks, which required Florida licenses and permits never acquired by the participants in the deals.

Despite being advised of the requirements of the law by the seller — who later reported the incident to the authorities — they directed their Florida-based suppliers to ignore it and make the shipments without the necessary paperwork.

However, Covino and Conk were unaware that their phone conversations and text messages were being recorded by the business owner, who was co-operating with federal authorities.

The Spotted eagle rays and Lemon sharks were captured in the Keys by marine-life collectors in mid-2012. The rays sold for $1,250 each, the sharks for $650 each.

Payment for the various specimens was made by credit cards held in the Aquarium's name. The defendants acknowledged that their illegal conduct was within the scope of their employment, and intended to benefit, at least in part, the Idaho Aquarium. In the same case, Idaho Aquarium, Inc. pled guilty to the same conspiracy count and is awaiting sentencing.

In a separate criminal proceeding, Peter Covino, the nephew of Ammon Covino, was tried, convicted, and sentenced for obstruction of justice in connection with his effort to persuade the supplier in the Florida Keys to destroy the invoices and messages related to the illegal purchases of the marine life to prevent their use in Ammon Covino’s case.

Testimony at the trial established that after Ammon Covino had been arrested in February this year, he induced Peter Covino to make the calls.

The Idaho Aquarium is a non-profit organisation, which opened in December 2011 and is home to over 250 species of animals and marine life.

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