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Idaho Aquarium case leaves 20-year-old Eagle man facing up to 20 years in prison for two phone calls

A 20-year-old Eagle man is facing up to 20 years in federal prison after being convicted of obstruction of justice in Florida in connection with wildlife from the Florida Keys illegally purchased for display at the Idaho Aquarium in Boise. Federal authorities say Peter Covino had no involvement in the illegal purchases, but he made two phone calls in February to a Florida wholesale marine life dealer, asking the dealer to delete all text messages, emails and other evidence linked to purchases by his uncle, Ammon Covino. Unbeknownst to Peter Covino, the dealer was cooperating with federal authorities and the phone calls were recorded; Ammon Covino was arrested Feb. 21 on charges of conspiracy and violations of the federal Lacey Act by purchasing and transporting wildlife from the Florida Keys to Idaho, including spotted eagle rays and lemon sharks. Peter Covino, who admitted in court he made the two calls at his uncle's direction, is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 24 and also faces fines of up to $250,000. Click below for the full news release from the U.S. Attorney's office, and a report from the Associated Press.


Nephew of aquarium president guilty of obstruction
  

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The nephew of an Idaho aquarium president has been convicted of obstructing justice in a case in which his uncle is charged with buying illegally obtained marine animals.

Wifredo Ferrer, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, says 20-year-old Peter C. Covino IV of Eagle, Idaho, was convicted in a jury trial on Wednesday. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on Sept. 24.

Prosecutors said Covino called a wholesale marine life business in the Florida Keys twice in February to ask the owner to destroy all text messages, emails and other evidence linking the business to Covino's uncle, Ammon Covino. The business was cooperating with federal investigators, and prosecutors said those phone calls were recorded.

Peter Covino testified in the trial that he made the calls at the behest of his uncle, according to court documents.

Ammon Covino, the president of the Idaho Aquarium, has pleaded not guilty in a separate case to charges he conspired to violate the federal Lacey Act by buying four spotted eagle rays and two lemon sharks that were harvested without a permit so he could display the animals at the aquarium. Christopher Conk, a director on the board of the aquarium, has been charged with the same crime. Both are set to stand trial in September.

The aquarium opened about two years ago in Boise and the facility has been connected to a couple of criminal cases. Conk pleaded guilty in 2011 to federal charges that he illegally shipped protective live corals to buyers around the world. His ex-wife, Deidra Davison, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trafficking in wildlife and violating the Endangered Species Act.

After the arrests of Conk and Ammon Covino in February, aquarium staffers said changes were being made to ensure the facility's suppliers have the proper permits and paperwork for any animals brought to the aquarium.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

 

Idaho Man Convicted of Obstruction of Justice in Key West Marine Life Case

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 24, 2013

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Otha Easley, Acting Special Agent in Charge, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, and David Pharo, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Miami Field Office, announced that Peter C. Covino, IV, 20, of Eagle, Idaho, was convicted today after a jury trial, for knowingly and corruptly attempting to persuade another to alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal an object with the intent to impair the object’s integrity and availability for use in an official proceeding, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1512(b)(2)(B) and 2.

According to testimony presented in Court, and documents in the case file, in February 2013 Covino made two phone calls to a business in the Florida Keys involved in the wholesale marine life trade. His purpose in doing so was in part to direct one of the business owners “to erase all the text messages, and emails, or any other evidence” linking the Florida business to Ammon Covino, the uncle of defendant Peter Covino.

In a separate criminal proceeding, United States v. Ammon Covino, et al., Case No. 12-10020-CR-Martinez, Ammon Covino had been arrested on February 21, 2013, in connection with allegations that he engaged in conspiracy and various violations of the federal Lacey Act by purchasing and transporting wildlife from the Florida Keys to Idaho for exhibit at the Idaho Aquarium in Boise, Idaho. According to the charges, the wildlife included spotted eagle rays and lemon sharks, for which the required Florida licenses and permits were never acquired. Testimony established at trial that Ammon Covino had made the arrangements for the illegal purchases by emails, text messages, and telephone calls.

Prior to the two calls made by defendant Peter Covino on February 21, 2013, and before the arrest and initial court appearance of Ammon Covino, Peter Covino had never been involved with the acquisition of wildlife from Florida and had no prior direct dealings with the Florida-based supplier. Unknown to Peter Covino, the business owner was cooperating with federal authorities and his phone conversations were recorded. During his trial testimony, Peter Covino admitted that he made the calls at the direction of Ammon Covino.

Peter Covino faces a possible sentence of up to 20 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000, and a term of supervised release of up to three years. United States District Judge Jose E. Martinez, who presided over the trial, set sentencing in this matter for September 24, 2013 at 1:00 p.m. in the Key West Courthouse.

Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of NOAA Office for Law Enforcement and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. Mr. Ferrer also thanked the Officers of the Idaho Department of Fish & Game. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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