Crime

Ex-Idaho aquarium operator ordered back to prison

Lion fish at the Aquarium of Boise 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.
Lion fish at the Aquarium of Boise 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. Joe Jaszewski / jjaszewski@idaho

A federal judge in Florida has ordered former Idaho Aquarium cofounder Ammon Covino back to prison for violating terms of his parole.

Covino, who has been free on $500,000 bond, must surrender to the U.S. Marshals Office in Austin, Texas, by 10 a.m. Monday, March 7, to serve a 90-day sentence, with credit for time served while in custody during his parole revocation proceedings.

In December 2013, Covino and fellow cofounder Chris Conk were sentenced in federal court in Florida for conspiring to bring illegally harvested spotted rays and lemon sharks from Florida to Boise for display at the aquarium.

Covino was sentenced to one year in prison followed by two years of supervised release. He was let out of prison in August 2014. The court barred him from any employment during his supervised release that involves the possession, display, transportation, exhibition, purchase or sale of wildlife.

According to court records, Covino violated a condition of his release barring him from engaging in “any activity that involves exhibiting, importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring or purchasing in interstate of commerce any fish or wildlife.” He also failed to “answer truthfully all inquiries by his probation officer.”

Court records did not indicate specifically how Covino violated those two conditions. A spokeswoman for the Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office said no further details were available. But, on Sept. 20, 2014, Covino had asked a judge if he could work as a “construction consultant” for an aquarium his brother, Vince, was opening in San Antonio. He also asked the judge for permission to open a “bounce house” for children adjacent to the San Antonio Aquarium.

“His responsibilities (at San Antonio Aquarium) will have nothing to do with fish or wildlife,” Covino’s attorney wrote then.

Covino withdrew his request less than a month later. Last October, was arrested in Texas for violating terms of his supervised release.

U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez also ordered Covino to pay $50,000 to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The money will go to the Mote Marine Laboratory at Summerland Key, Florida.

Conk, who cooperated with investigators, received a reduced sentence of four months in prison followed by two years of supervised release.

Covino and Conk are longer associated with Idaho Aquarium, which has been restructured and now operates as Aquarium of Boise, a nonprofit.

Covino and his brother, Vince, opened a for-profit aquarium in Portland in 2012. The Portland Aquarium closed Feb. 16 after it lost its lease, according to its Facebook page.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

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