CEO of SeaQuest accused of another big aquarium scandal - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

CEO of SeaQuest accused of another big aquarium scandal

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Protesters gathered outside SeaQuest on April 15, 2017. (Kurt Rempe/FOX5) Protesters gathered outside SeaQuest on April 15, 2017. (Kurt Rempe/FOX5)

Protesters gathered outside of the SeaQuest Interactive Aquarium at the Boulevard Mall on Saturday to continue accusing the company of killing animals.

FOX5 was the first to report the complaints stemming from a former employee, Chris Stansell. He accused SeaQuest of having managers who sweep unsafe working conditions under the rug, leading to the deaths of dozens of animals including but not limited to "an entire tank of eels" and "eleven stingrays in one night."

"They were constantly battling these fluctuating pH balances that were killing animals," Stansell said. "I know that this place is going to be shut down, it's only a matter of time."

"SOMETHING SMELLS FISHY," read one sign, held by a protester. "THANKS BUT NO TANKS."

Bystanders honked as the protesters chanted, "There's no excuse for animal abuse!"

SeaQuest denies accusations, claims they're being transparent

Earlier this week, General Manager David Nearhouse denied Stansell's accusations. He said veterinarians routinely check the animals and that Stansell is simply a "disgruntled employee" with an ax to grind.

"People have protests for different reasons, and I don't know what the basis of the protest is, but they're entitled to their rights," Nearhouse said. "(We have) nothing to hide at all."

Despite having "nothing to hide," SeaQuest has refused to directly answer our questions about the number of deaths since its grand opening just a few months ago. Nearhouse also refused to validate the authenticity of pictures and videos Stansell recorded of injured or dead animals.

Alui Hernandez, a corporate spokesperson for SeaQuest, similarly would not address the number of dead animals or how they keep track of specific cases.

"All of our policies are internal policies that we don't disclose to anybody," Hernandez said. "We don't disclose that kind of information. If you called SeaWorld, they wouldn't disclose that type of information."

SeaQuest's CEO and his brother

FOX5 was able to reach SeaQuest CEO Vince Covino by cell phone. He would not answer any questions and referred us to Hernandez.

Covino has a history of dealing with complaints against his businesses. Although the SeaQuest company is relatively new, he has been tied to scandals involving other aquariums.

In 2013, Vince Covino's brother, Ammon Covino, was sentenced to one year in prison after illegally obtaining and shipping three spotted eagle rays and two lemon sharks for the Idaho Aquarium.

Since then, the Idaho Statesman and Salt Lake Tribune have reported Ammon Covino was arrested for breaking the terms of his parole. Police say he helped Vince Covino launch SeaQuest in Las Vegas and Utah. Ammon Covino was reportedly banned by a federal judge to ensure he doesn't get involved in any activity involving fish or wildlife.

While on the phone, Vince Covino still refused to discuss his brother's case and passed us on to SeaQuest's spokesperson.

"Vince's brother is not affiliated with SeaQuest, and he will not ever be affiliated with SeaQuest," Hernandez said.

Still, Hernandez stopped short of saying the recent charges against Ammon Covino were untrue.

"That is an investigation and something that is not involving SeaQuest," Hernandez said.

Critics remember dead animals at the Portland Aquarium

In 2013, protesters in Oregon accused Vince Covino's Portland Aquarium of killing more than 200 animals.

After plenty of debate, journalists with our sister station in Portland, were able to get employees to acknowledge the number of deaths.

Shane Dietz, a director of the Portland Aquarium at the time, said employees tried to learn from every death at the aquarium.

"We love and fully care for all of our animals here," Dietz said to KPTV. "My staff loves each and every animal that comes into the facility and we try to give them the best life we possibly can."

A search of the OSHA website shows multiple "serious violations" with the Portland Aquarium in 2013, but additional information on those cases was not immediately available.

The Portland Aquarium closed in 2016 and is no longer affiliated with the Covino family. The building has since been demolished.

Protests promise to continue in Las Vegas

"They are a big corporation. They've had issues in the past, and they know how to fight it," Stansell said. "I wish I had left sooner... On the corporate level, they don't really want to make things better."

Stansell disputed claims that he is a "disgruntled employee" by releasing text messages he exchanged with Vince Covino on March 23rd.

The text messages indicate that the CEO invited Stansell to come back to SeaQuest to see if he feels things have changed.

"I want to walk u thru it when I meet with u. U have a lot to admire. Ur friends think highly of u. I wish u the best and will circle back in a month," read a text message from Vince Covino to Stansell. "I know we can get better... (Your opinions) won't fall on deaf ears. Keep in mind hindsight is 20/20. We look back and see a lot of the mistakes. But i Also recognize u saw things on site perhaps  I may be clueless about."

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