Idaho Aquarium owner indicted for illegally buying sharks, rays

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by Scott Evans and Stephanie Zepelin

NWCN.com

Posted on February 21, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 12:47 PM

BOISE -- Federal charges have been filed against the Idaho Aquarium for buying and bringing Florida Atlantic fish to Idaho.

It's a federal case that has, at least for today, shut down the Idaho Aquarium.

Two men, including the owner of the aquarium, are accused of conspiracy to buying protected wildlife out of Florida.

Christopher Conk and Ammon Covino are accused of buying $6,300 worth of protected fish out of Florida.

If they're convicted, they face upwards of 20 years in prison and a million dollars in fines.

Even though Conk and Covino face charges out of Florida, they were in federal court in Boise today for what was more of an extradition hearing than an initial court appearance.

What happened today was a process to make sure both men make it to Florida.

Judge Candy Dale set Conk's bond at $10,000 and Covino's at $100,000. The judge used a type of bond that allows them to use a business as collateral.

Court documents released today outline conversations between Covino and a person in Florida looking to sell spotted eagle rays and lemon sharks.

In one conversation, Covino is accused of telling the person to sneak the fish to Idaho.

Another conversation said it would be no big deal that they did not have the permits to buy the fish.

Then a conversation between Covino and Conk accuse them of saying they would keep the transaction "on the down low."

In all, the two men that run the Idaho Aquarium, as well as the aquarium as a corporate entity, were indicted on four charges of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and violating the Lacey Act. That's an act that makes it illegal to purchase protected marine life.

As for Conk, he has faced similar charges before.

He pleaded guilty in 2011 to shipping and selling live coral to buyers around the world. Since his conviction he's been on supervised probation.

Both men are expected to be in Key West, Florida, on March 15 for a formal arraignment.

Officials from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service were at the Idaho Aquarium Thursday to make sure no one got inside the building.

Those officials would not answer our questions, and tried to keep us from looking in the windows.

Idaho Fish and Game says they were called in to assist, but could not share any information on what's going on with the animals.

People guarded all the entrances.

A handful folks hoping to go to the aquarium today were turned away.

"We come about twice a year every time we come and visit the boys and they have a great time. They get to touch the fish and play with everything in there. So it's a lot of fun," said Kathleen Sullivan.

Sullivan is from Colorado and came to visit her nephews. Whenever she visits they go to the Idaho Aquarium because the boys love it.

KTVB is working to find out what happened to the animals mentioned in the indictment -- the sharks and rays that were illegally obtained.

The U.S. attorney's office in Idaho referred us to the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida. They have not returned our calls.

A lot viewers have been asking on Facebook if the Idaho Aquarium is closing and - if so - what happens to your passes.

Those answers are not yet available, but we are looking into it and will report what we find out.

We checked the Idaho Aquarium's Facebook page Friday morning and it said they are open today.

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