Former aquarium board member sentenced in coral case

Sean Olson//March 14, 2012

Former aquarium board member sentenced in coral case

Sean Olson//March 14, 2012

Chris Conk, owner of Coral Fanatics LLC, was sentenced to 100 hours of community service by a federal judge March 14 for a charge of smuggling coral reef abroad.

The charges stemmed from Conk sending three shipments of coral to Austria in 2010 without proper permits or licensing, according to a plea agreement.

Conk, who formerly sat on the board of the new Idaho Public Aquarium, said in a phone interview that he was unaware of the regulations before he was charged.

“I didn’t even know. No one ever told me,” Conk said. “Turns out, three years later I got busted for it.”

Conk was removed from the aquarium board due to the charges, but remains a loyal volunteer who has put in “thousands” of volunteer hours to get the facility running, said aquarium director Ammon Covino.

According to court documents, Conk misidentified the coral, considered a living animal, in his shipping documents.

“The package was not labeled as wildlife, were not declared to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nor did the defendant obtain an import/export license from the United States Department of the Interior prior to engaging in a business as an exporter of wildlife,” the plea agreement states.

Conk said that although he meant no harm, he takes responsibility for his company’s sales.

“I can’t say that I didn’t break the law because I did,” Conk said. “There is no excuse for ignorance.”

Since being charged, Conk paid the $100 necessary for a license and has continued his coral growing and shipping business. He has avoided exporting coral overseas, he said.

Covino said the coral business has no relation to the aquarium.