Crime

Ex-Idaho aquarium operator Ammon Covino headed back to prison

Lion fish at the Aquarium of Boise on Cole Road in Boise. The aquarium, formerly known as Idaho Aquarium, is under new ownership following the indictment and conviction of its co-founders Ammon Covino and Chris Conk in 2013.
Lion fish at the Aquarium of Boise on Cole Road in Boise. The aquarium, formerly known as Idaho Aquarium, is under new ownership following the indictment and conviction of its co-founders Ammon Covino and Chris Conk in 2013. Joe Jaszewski / jjaszewski@idaho

For the second time, former Idaho Aquarium operator Ammon Covino is headed back to prison for violating a condition of his supervised release.

The first time Covino violated a release condition barring him from the possession, display, transportation, exhibition, purchase or sale of wildlife, a Florida federal judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail. That was in February.

A few months later, Covino violated the same condition. This time, U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez sentenced Covino to eight months in prison — almost as long as his original one-year sentence for conspiring to bring illegally harvested spotted rays and lemon sharks to Boise for display at the aquarium.

Martinez issued an arrest warrant for Covino on Sept. 22 for “failing to abstain from engaging in activity that involves exhibiting, importing, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring or purchasing ... fish or wildlife.” Covino has been involved in the “preparation of the opening of two SeaQuest Aquariums located in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Layton, Utah,” according to court documents. Covino’s brother, Vince, co-owns SeaQuest.

Authorities arrested Covino on Sept. 27 in West Texas and sent him to Florida to appear before the judge.

At a Nov. 30 court hearing, Martinez revoked Covino’s supervised release and sentenced him to eight months incarceration followed by one year supervised release.

The judge reiterated Covino “shall not engage in any form of aquatic life, exhibiting, preservation.”

Covino’s marine-related legal troubles started in February 2013 when a Florida grand jury indicted him for to conspiring to bring illegally harvested spotted rays and lemon sharks to Boise for display at the aquarium.

Covino pleaded guilty. In December 2013, Martinez sentenced him to 12 months and one day in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release. The judge also barred Covino from any activity during his supervised release that involves the possession, display, transportation, exhibition, purchase or sale of fish and wildlife.

Covino has had difficulty abiding that condition.

Here’s what has happened since his initial sentencing:

Aug. 22, 2014: Covino gets out of prison and is placed on supervised release.

September 2014: Covino asks a judge if he can work as a “construction consultant” for an aquarium his brother, Vince, is opening in San Antonio. He also asks for permission to open a “bounce house” for children adjacent to the aquarium. Covino later withdraws the request.

Oct. 20, 2015: Covino is arrested in Texas for violating a condition of his release and for failing to “answer truthfully all inquiries by his probation officer.” Court records do not indicate which release condition Covino violated.

Early 2016: Covino’s wife, Crysty, becomes part owner of the aquariums in San Antonio and Austin that had been owned by her brother-in-law, Vince.

Feb. 22: Judge Martinez revokes Covino’s release, sentences him to 30 days in jail and orders him to pay $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

April 2: Covino is released from jail and goes back on supervised release.

Sept. 22: Martinez issues an arrest warrant for Covino for “failing to abstain from engaging in activity that involves exhibiting, importing, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring or purchasing ... fish or wildlife.” Covino has been involved in the “preparation of the opening of two SeaQuest Aquariums located in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Layton, Utah,” according to court documents.

Sept. 27: Authorities arrest Covino in West Texas and send him to Florida.

Nov. 30: Covino’s supervised release revocation hearing before Martinez, who sentences him to eight months in prison followed by one year supervised release.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

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