String of Prosecutions for Illegal Livestock Harvesting in Florida Tied to Single Investigation

Key Marine on Grassy Key

Photo by Ryan McCarthy

If you’ve been following the string of recent prosecutions and subsequent sentencing of operators of saltwater aquarium based businesses that we’ve been writing about, then you might be surprised to hear that many of those individuals are linked together as part of a single investigation. According to an article on KeysInfoNet, federal and state wildlife officials have been conducting Operation Rock Bottom, an investigation into the illegal trafficking of fish and corals taken from the protected waters of the Florida Keys.

Operation Rock Bottom was kicked off in 2011 when officers raided the fish-collecting business, Key Marine Inc. After the raid, officers then used the business to collect evidence on other businesses and individuals looking to do a little shady business. From this series of investigations, a total of four individuals have been placed in federal prison, and supposedly there are a number of cases still being processed through the court system. Operation Rock Bottom has snagged the following individuals, some of which we have covered extensively:

  • Jerrold Tieder, president of Tropical Fish Transhippers, was sentenced to two years of probation and fined $5,000 in January after pleading guilty to illegally acquiring and selling nurse sharks. Tieder’s business was placed on probation for three years and fined $2,500.
  • Jonathan Hale, of Country Critters of Long lsland Inc., was charged for buying and selling live rock and corals taken from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, as well as falsely labeling overseas imports. He is free on a $25,000 bond.
  • Christopher Conk, of the Idaho Aquarium, was sentenced to four months in prison followed by two years of probation and six months’ house arrest for his involvement in the illegal purchase of eagle rays and lemon sharks. He was also arrested for violating his probation from another case where he was convicted of dealing in illegal corals. On top of that, Conk was already on probation for a driving under the influence charge from 2012. He is currently being held in federal custody.
  • Ammon Covino, of the Idaho Aquarium and co-defendant of Christopher Conk, was sentenced to one year in prison and two years’ probation for his involvement in the Idaho Aquarium case.
  • Richard E. Perrin, owner of the Tropicorium aquarium store in Michigan, received three years of probation and a $15,000 fine following his guilty plea for catching, buying, and shipping illegally collected nurse sharks, angelfish, and other marine life.
  • Joseph Franko, a co-defendant of Richard Perrin, pleaded guilty to catching baby alligators from Florida. He is currently scheduled for sentencing.

That wraps up the long list of convictions, some of which have obviously resulted in jail time. As the other unlisted individuals continue through the legal system and come to the public eye, we’ll be sure to share their stories as well.


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