Idaho Aquarium and Employees Plead Guilty to Illegal Trafficking of Marine Life
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Otha Easley, Acting Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, and David Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Miami, announce that Idaho Aquarium, Inc., an Idaho corporation based in Boise, Ammon Covino, 40, formerly of Meridian, Idaho, and Christopher Conk, 40, of Middleton, Idaho, entered guilty pleas in federal District Court in Key West yesterday for conspiring to harvest, transport, and sell spotted eagle rays and lemon sharks, knowing the marine life were taken, possessed, transported, sold, and intended to be sold in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida, contrary to the federal Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A), and 3373(d)(1) and (2), all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
According to the Indictment and Joint Factual Statements submitted to the Court and agreed to by the respective defendants, the defendants confessed that during the period extending from March 2012 through approximately November 2012, they 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. According to the Factual Statements, Covino and Conk were both at the time officers of the Aquarium, were individually advised of the requirements of the law, and nevertheless directed their Florida-based suppliers to ignore the law and make the shipments. Unknown to Covino and Conk at the time of the phone calls was the fact that the business owner was cooperating with federal authorities and the phone conversations and text messages were recorded. Payment for the various specimens was made by credit cards held in the Aquarium’s name. All three defendants acknowledged that Covino and Conk’s illegal conduct was within the scope of their employment, and intended to benefit, at least in part, the Idaho Aquarium.
In a separate criminal proceeding, United States v. Peter C. Covino, IV, Case No. 13-10010-CR-Martinez, 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 marine life to prevent their use in Ammon Covino’s case, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1512(b)(2)(B). Testimony at the trial established that after Ammon Covino had been arrested on February 21, 2013 he induced Peter Covino to make the calls.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, the Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement, and the Idaho Department of Fish & Game. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonia Barnes, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.