More trouble for Covino-owned aquariums

csewell@idahostatesman.comAugust 28, 2013 

Treasure Valley brothers Vince and Ammon Covino have hit yet another obstacle in their multi-city aquarium venture.

On Tuesday, Austin TV station KXAN reported city officials ordered Vince Covino to remove any fish on site and to stop work on a new aquarium slated to open in December. Work can't resume until he obtains permission to have livestock on site and gets a building permit to remodel a former furniture store into an aquarium.

The Portland Aquarium, which the brothers opened in December 2012, is the subject of an animal cruelty investigation.

Earlier this month, the Oregon Humane Society said it is investigating deaths of more than 200 marine animals at the recently opened Portland Aquarium.

The marine animals died between Feb. 18 and May 16 from starvation, infection, high temperatures, and animal-on-animal attacks, according to a death log obtained by The Oregonian newspaper. Among the casualties were bamboo sharks, sea horses, garden eels, sea stars, crabs and dozens of fish.

Vince Covino told The Oregonian the complaints are unfounded and come from disgruntled former employees or people who do not understand how aquariums operate.

The Idaho Aquarium, which opened in 2011 in Boise, too, has been in the news.

Ammon Covino and Chris Conk, who co-founded the Idaho Aquarium, are slated to plead guilty next month in federal Florida court to illegally purchasing Florida marine without proper permits and transporting them to the Idaho Aquarium.

The Boise aquarium operates as a nonprofit corporation; the Covino-owned Portland and Austin aquariums are for-profit businesses.

The Idaho Aquarium reports Ammon Covino is no longer on its board of directors and "has moved onto other things." The Idaho Aquarium also said its annualized mortality rate is about 1 percent, and it hasn’t experienced any problems like the animal deaths in Portland.

Ammon Covino and Conk were arrested in Boise on Feb. 21 and charged with conspiracy and unlawful sale or purchase of marine animals. They are accused in Florida of buying four eagle rays and two lemon sharks. The pair initially pleaded not guilty and a trial was slated for Sept. 23 in Key West. According to court documents filed last week, they are scheduled to change their pleas on Sept. 24.

Also in September, Ammon Covino's nephew, Peter C. Covino IV, will be sentenced following a Florida federal jury conviction of obstruction of justice.

The day after the 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.

Peter Covino faces a sentence of up to 20 years, a fine of up to $250,000 and a term of supervised release of up to three years. His sentencing is set for Sept. 19.

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