Dec. 02–Two former directors of the Idaho Aquarium, Ammon Covino and Chris Conk, were sentenced Monday in a Florida federal court for conspiring to bring illegally harvested spotted rays and lemon sharks to Boise for display at the aquarium.
Covino was sentenced to one year in prison followed by two years supervised release. Additionally, the court also barred Covino from any employment during his supervised release that involves the possession, display, transportation, exhibition, purchase or sale of wildlife.
Conk, who cooperated with investigators, received a reduced sentence of four months in prison followed by two years of supervised release.
Covino and Conk, both 40, founded the nonprofit Idaho Aquarium in Boise in 2011. Per a court order, Covino and Conk can no longer be associated with Idaho Aquarium, which has undergone restructuring including hiring a new director, Nancy Vannorsdel, who is the former president and CEO of Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Covino, Conk and the Idaho Aquarium all pleaded guilty in September.
A judge continued Idaho Aquarium’s sentencing to March 24. The aquarium has agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and donate $50,000 to the National Wildlife Federation.
The aquarium’s new attorney, Vaughn Fisher, requested the continuance because the aquarium is in the process of rebuilding including appointing new board members, rewriting its bylaws and creating a plan to ensure it complies with state and federal and IRS regulations.
Fisher also said another aquarium priority has been “responding to an investigation being conducted by the Idaho Attorney General.” The Attorney General’s office would not comment on if it is conducting an investigation into the aquarium or Covino and Conk.
Conk, in a separate case in December 2011, pleaded guilty to illegally shipping protected coral from his Middleton home. In March 2012, he was sentenced to two years federal probation. He was on federal probation when he and Covino were arrested in February in Boise for illegally obtaining and shipping three spotted eagle rays and two lemon sharks for the Idaho Aquarium.
Covino and his brother, Vince, opened in 2012 a for-profit aquarium in Portland, Ore., and plan to open an aquarium in Austin, Texas, this year.
The Portland Aquarium is the subject of an Oregon Humane Society investigation; the Boise aquarium is the subject of an Idaho Humane Society and Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game investigation. Those investigations are pending.
In a separate but related Florida criminal proceeding, Covino’s nephew, Peter C. Covino, IV, was sentenced in September to 180 days home detention with electronic monitoring and two years supervised release. A Florida federal jury convicted Covino of obstruction of justice in connection with his uncle’s conspiracy case.
The day after Ammon Covino and Chris Conk’s arrests, federal agents listened to two recorded telephone calls placed to a Florida business from which Covino and Conk are accused of illegally purchasing marine life and shipping it to Idaho.
The caller asked the Florida businessman to cancel a marine life shipment to Boise, refund the credit card and to erase all emails, text messages and other evidence associated with Ammon Covino, according to court documents and testimony.
Federal agents identified the caller as Peter C. Covino, the son of Ammon Covino’s brother, Peter C. Covino III.
During his trial testimony, the younger Peter Covino admitted that he made the calls at the direction of Ammon Covino.