By Adam Linhardt
Four men involved in the illegal harvest and sale of Florida Keys marine life for use in the saltwater aquarium trade are scheduled to be sentenced today and Tuesday in federal court.
Idaho Aquarium Inc. owners Ammon Covino and Christopher Conk, both 40, told U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez they bought $6,300 in lemon sharks and spotted eagle rays.
Both pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and face the same maximum five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000 when they are sentenced today at the Sidney M. Aronovitz courthouse, 301 Simonton St.
Conk was already serving six years of supervised probation after pleading guilty in 2011 to shipping and selling live coral to buyers around the world, according to federal court records.
U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez allowed both men to remain free on the $100,000 bail they already posted pending their sentencing.
Their nonprofit Idaho Aquarium Inc., in Boise, Idaho, also pleaded guilty in September to one count of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act. The organization was represented by its director, Amanda Davison.
Davison told Martinez the nonprofit agreed to pay a total of $60,000 to the federal government as per a plea agreement, but the organization will face up to $500,000 in fines when it is also sentenced in Key West on Tuesday.
Martinez sentenced Ammon Covino's nephew, 20-year-old Peter Covino IV of Eagle, Idaho, in September as well for destroying case evidence for his uncle
Martinez sentenced the nephew to time already served, with two months' home detention and two years' probation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-Fitzgerald had asked for a year in prison, but Assistant Federal Public Defender Daryl Wilcox cited the younger Covino's clean record and his attainment of the rank of Eagle Scout during his argument for leniency.
Peter Covino canceled a shipment of nurse sharks and rays and destroyed texts, emails and other communications between two Keys men and his uncle, Ammon Covino, according to court testimony.
Meanwhile, Grassy Key residents Eric Paul Pedersen, 51, and Serdar Ercan, 42, are both scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.
The government claims the elder Covino and Conk bought the wildlife illegally harvested from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary from Pedersen and Ercan, according to court records. More....