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Founder of Idaho Aquarium gets prison for trafficking in sharks

Dec. 4, 2013 at 1:27 AM

KEY WEST, Fla., Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Ammon Covino, whose family operates three aquariums, was sentenced to a year in prison for illegally taking marine animals from a federal refuge in Florida.

Covino, 40, was barred for life from buying or selling wild animals, the Key West Citizen reported. A co-defendant, Christopher Conk, 40, was given a four-month sentence and also barred from the wildlife trade.

Covino's family operates aquariums in Boise, Idaho; Portland, Ore.; and Austin, Texas. Covino was president of the Idaho Aquarium, organized as a non-profit corporation, and Conk its secretary when they were charged in February with conspiring to buy four spotted eagle rays and two lemon sharks taken from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Both pleaded guilty in September to violating the Lacey Act.

At Monday's hearing, Covino pleaded to be spared prison, saying his wife is pregnant and the child is due in April. He said he would give "his right hand" for a non-custodial sentence.

U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez halted his plea, telling him his child is the one he should apologize to.

Conk told the judge he had never been out of Idaho and Utah until he came to the Keys for a court hearing but had quickly learned to appreciate the area's beauty.

"It won't be beautiful for much longer if people keep stealing sharks and other wildlife," Martinez said.

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