Idaho Aquarium Reopens In Shadow of Founders' Arrest

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Twenty-four hours after its founders were arrested and hauled into a federal courtroom to face conspiracy charges, the Idaho Aquarium painted on a smile and reopened its doors Friday.

Ammon Covino, 39, and 40-year-old Chris Conk were arrested late Thursday, accused of illegally purchasing marine life. The pair have been ordered to appear March 15 in a Key West, Fla., federal courtroom, where they will face trial.

Covino is the aquarium's president and Conk is its secretary. The Aquarium is registered as a nonprofit organization with the Idaho secretary of state.

A Florida grand jury returned an indictment charging the two with conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, alleging that Covino and Conk purchased four spotted eagle rays and two lemon sharks for approximately $6,300, and that the fish were allegedly harvested illegally and without a permit.

The defendants are each charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of illegal purchase and sale of fish and wildlife. Each count is punishable by up to five years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 and at least three years of supervised release.

Meanwhile, aquarium staff said Friday that they had no idea there was a chance that some of the animals on display were obtained illegally.

"We have different protocol now for making sure our suppliers have all their proper permits in place," Stephanie Leonard told KTVB-TV on Friday. "We're making sure that we file all the proper paperwork for every animal that we get, and that we're alerting the feds."

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