Protesters on Saturday gathered outside a new Las Vegas aquarium founded by a Boise man, alleging that animals inside were not being cared for properly.
Boisean Vince Covino is founder and CEO of Seaquest Interactive Aquarium, which also has a new aquarium in Layton, Utah, and one under construction in Fort Worth, Texas.
Saturday’s protest followed allegations from an ex-employee of the Las Vegas aquarium that animals are being mistreated, KTNV-TV reported.
Covino told the Idaho Statesman that the ex-employee, Chris Stansell, quit immediately after being passed over for promotion.
“He was not even in the husbandry department,” Covino said in an email. “His sole job was birthday parties. The actual husbandry team there has done an incredible job of keeping the animals healthy and happy. This story is completely false. Animal Control has done two rounds in there this year, and I am working on getting a copy of those positive reports.”
Stansell told the Statesman that he was promoted from leading field trips to senior guest services manager. He also provided his March 23 letter of resignation after five months working at the aquarium.
Since the aquarium opened in December, “something along the lines of 200-plus animals have died,” he wrote. Among them were are two octopuses, at least 15 lionfish, a tank of eels, numerous stingrays including 11 in a single night and baby tortoises.
He said some some birds died after they were denied food to encourage them to interact with customers who buy food the aquarium sells for hand feeding.
“These animals aren’t sick or lame, they come in healthy and full of life, and these conditions are killing them, and more bodies will surely fill many more freezers in the coming months,” Stansell wrote. “The only thought I have when I’m holding a bird that’s so exhausted from lack of food that it can barely move until it dies is that this sham of a company is building another location in Texas with plans of another 20 locations across the country within the next five years.”
Protesters also took issue with Covino and his brother of Ammon Covino, who cofounded and operated the former Idaho Aquarium in Boise.
Ammon Covino was imprisoned in 2013 for conspiring with a fellow Idaho Aquarium co-founder to bring illegally harvested spotted rays and lemon sharks from Florida to Boise for display.
The aquarium is now run by a nonprofit not associated with the Covinos and has been renamed the Aquarium of Boise.
KTNV called Vince Covino and asked if his brother was involved with the aquarium in Las Vegas. Covino referred the query to Alui Hernandez, a corporate spokesperson, who said Ammon Covino has no affiliation with SeaQuest.
She, too, denied Stansell’s allegations that animals are being mistreated.
“These allegations are false and made by disgruntled employees,” Hernandez told KNTV. “We take great pride in the way we take care of our animals at SeaQuest.”
Hernandez would not say if any animals have died since the aquarium opened last year.
Last month, Covino agreed to pay Idaho $5,000 for violating state law as he raised investment money for new aquariums in three other states.
A former broker, Covino had been in trouble before over investors’ money. He was registered in Idaho as a securities broker-dealer from January 1998 through December 2011, when his registration was suspended for 30 days after the securities industry’s self-regulation body, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, ruled that he had borrowed money improperly from a client to buy a home.
He violated the Idaho Uniform Securities Act last fall by failing to disclose the 2011 disciplinary action to two investors who bought nearly a million dollar’s worth of membership interests in SeaQuest Interactive Aquariums, the Idaho Department of Finance said.
Covino on March 14 agreed to the fine, accepted the state’s account of the events and pledged to follow the law by signing an agreement and order written by the Department of Finance.