Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Idaho aquarium fined $10K for illegal fish trafficking

An Idaho aquarium must pay a criminal fine of $10,000 for conspiring to harvest, transport and sell spotted eagle rays and lemon sharks captured in 2012 without permits, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

Idaho Aquarium, Inc. (IAI) must also submit annual audits and plans to the court and make alternative community service payments in the amount of $50,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a congressionally-chartered nonprofit.

Officials with IAI in Boise, Idaho, admitted in court that they intended to benefit at least in part from the illegal wildlife harvesting of two men who came to the Florida Keys to ship various fish to Idaho for an exhibit.

The money will promote research, conservation and restoration of marine life and corals throughout the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, U.S. District Court Judge Jose Martinez ordered.

IAI will be on probation for three years.

In December, Ammon Covino, 40, formerly of Meridian, Idaho, and Christopher Conk, 40, formerly of Middleton, Idaho, were sentenced for the same federal crime.

In imposing the prison sentences, Martinez said the crime "strikes to the very heart of this area and the economy of this area."

Covino received one year and one day in prison, followed by two years of probation. The court also barred him from working any job that involves possession, display, purchase or sale of wildlife.

Conk, who cooperated with investigators, received a reduced sentence of four months in prison, followed by two years of probation and forfeiture of the vehicle used in the commission of the violation.

Unknown to them, the Florida business owner they were dealing with was cooperating with federal agents, who recorded phone conversations and text messages.

IAI's credit cards paid for the various specimens, prosecutors said.

Wilfredo Ferrer, the U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, on Tuesday commended investigators from the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, the Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and Antonia Barnes with help from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Idaho.

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