Idaho Aquarium sentencing concludes yearlong ordeal

csewell@idahostatesman.comApril 15, 2014 


A visitor hand-feeds a ray in the newly rebuilt “touch tank” at the Idaho Aquarium.

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A Florida judge on Monday sentenced the Idaho Aquarium for conspiring to bring illegally harvested spotted rays and lemon sharks to Boise for display, bringing an end to the nearly yearlong ordeal that resulted in the aquarium's founders going to jail and a complete restructuring of the nonprofit organization.

Under a plea agreement, the aquarium agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and donate $50,000 to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. The aquarium also will serve three years probation and conduct annual audits.

Ammon Covino, Chris Conk and the Idaho Aquarium were indicted by a Florida grand jury in February; all pleaded guilty in September.

Covino and Conk, the two former directors of the Idaho Aquarium, were sentenced Dec. 2.

Covino was sentenced to one year in prison followed by two years of supervised release. Additionally, the court barred Covino from any employment during his supervised release that involves the possession, display, transportation, exhibition, purchase or sale of wildlife. Covino is serving his sentence in federal facility in Beaumont, Texas, federal facility.

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 aquarium in 2011. Per a court order, Covino and Conk can no longer be associated with Idaho Aquarium, which has undergone restructuring.

Former Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Nancy Vannorsdel took over as Idaho Aquarium interim director in October. Since then the aquarium has appointed a new board of directors, rewritten it bylaws and created a plan to ensure it complies with state, federal and IRS regulations. Additionally, the aquarium regained legal control of its gift shop, which Ammon Covino's brother, Vince, had been operating as a for-profit business. The aquarium also has begun an extensive remodeling, which includes new and expanded exhibits and education facilities.

Covino and his brother, Vince, have opened two for-profit aquariums, one in Portland, Ore., the other in Austin, Texas.

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