Aquarium Operator Sentenced to Additional Prison Term for Violating Conditions of Release
Aquarium operator re-sentenced to eight additional months of incarceration, after violating conditions of his release.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Tracy Dunn, Assistant Director, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, and David Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Miami, made the announcement.
Ammon Covino, 43, formerly of Meridian, Idaho, was ordered to return to prison today for eight months and to serve an additional one-year term of supervised release, following a re-sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez in Key West. Covino violated court-imposed employment restrictions as a result of his 2013 conviction 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, all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
According to the original charging Indictment, during the period of March 2012 through approximately November 2012, Covino and others purchased and transported 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. Covino at the time was an officer of the Aquarium, had been advised of the requirements of the law, and nevertheless directed his Florida-based suppliers to ignore the law and make the shipments. Unknown to Covino at the time of the phone calls, that 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. In the same case, Idaho Aquarium, Inc. pled guilty to the same conspiracy count and was ordered to pay a $50,000 penalty.
Covino was originally sentenced in December 2013 by United States District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez to a term of imprisonment of one year and a day, followed by a term of supervised release of 2 years, and was barred from any employment during that period that involved the possession, display, transportation, exhibition, purchase, or sale of marine life.
In February 2016, Covino was sentenced to an additional 3 months in prison and a $50,000 financial penalty, for violating the special employment restrictions after agents discovered that he had secretly become involved in the development and construction of two aquarium facilities in the State of Texas, using false names and false claims of employment.
According to statements made in court during today’s hearing, within five days of Covino’s release from his most recent prison sentence, he again became involved in consulting and directing the development, construction, and exhibition details for two new aquarium facilities, located in Layton, Utah and Las Vegas, Nevada. Covino traveled to visit the facilities several times and lied to his probation officer regarding his travels.
Mr. Ferrer commended the joint investigative efforts of the Special Agents of the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and the Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement who participated in the long-term investigation into the illegal harvesting and sale of marine life resources from the Florida Keys. This matter was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald of the Economic & Environmental Crimes Section.