Idaho aquarium sentenced for illegal trafficking of marine life
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Tracy Dunn, Acting Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, and Edward Grace, Deputy Assistant Director, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, announce that Idaho Aquarium, Inc. (IAI), located in Boise, Idaho, was sentenced today in Key West for conspiring to harvest, transport, and sell spotted eagle rays and lemon sharks, knowing the marine life were taken, possessed, transported, sold, and intended to be sold in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Florida, contrary to the federal Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(a)(2)(A), and 3373(d)(1) and (2), all in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.
IAI, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez, who had previously accepted the guilty plea from IAI, to pay a criminal fine of $10,000 and serve a term of probation of three years. The court added special conditions requiring IAI to submit a comprehensive Compliance Plan and to conduct annual audits of the corporate records by an independent auditor. Additionally, the Court ordered IAI to make alternative community service payments in the amount of $50,000 to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, a Congresionally-chartered charitable and non-profit organization. The payment is to be used by NFWF to promote research, management, education, conservation, and restoration of marine life and corals throughout the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Florida Keys. IAI’s co-defendants, Ammon Covino, 40, formerly of Meridian, Idaho, and Christopher Conk, 40, formerly of Middleton, were sentenced on December 2, 2013 on the same offense. Covino was sentenced to one year and a day in prison, followed by two years of supervised release and was barred by the Court from any employment during that period that involves the possession, display, transportation, exhibition, purchase, or sale of wildlife. Conk, who cooperated with investigators, received a reduced sentence of four months in prison, followed by two years of supervised release and forfeiture of the vehicle used in the commission of the violation. As part of his sentence, 180 days of the supervised release is to be served in home detention under electronic monitoring. Conk also received the specific employment prohibition during his period of supervision. In imposing the prison sentences, Judge Martinez stated that the defendants conduct “strikes to the very heart of this area and the economy of this area.”
According to the indictment, joint factual statements submitted to the Court, and arguments at the sentencing hearings, during the period extending from March 2012 through approximately November 2012, IAI, Covino and Conk engaged in a conspiracy to purchase and transport wildlife from the Florida Keys to Idaho for exhibit at IAI in Boise. The wildlife included spotted eagle rays and lemon sharks, which required Florida licenses and permits never acquired by the participants in the deals. According to the Factual Statements, Covino and Conk were both at the time officers of the Aquarium, were individually advised of the requirements of the law, and nevertheless directed their Florida-based suppliers to ignore the law and make the shipments. Unknown to them the Florida business owner was cooperating with federal authorities and the phone conversations and text messages were recorded. Payment for the various specimens was made by credit cards held in IAI’s name. The defendants acknowledged that Covino and Conk’s illegal conduct was within the scope of their employment, and intended to benefit, at least in part, IAI.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and the Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. Mr. Ferrer also thanked the Idaho Department of Fish & Game. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonia Barnes, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Idaho.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at flsd.uscourts.gov or onpacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.
Annette Castillo, USDOJ
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