Actor and Massapequa native Alec Baldwin sent a strongly-worded letter last week to the Town of Oyster Bay on behalf of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asking the town to deny a permit request by SeaQuest Holdings LLC to open an aquarium in the Westfield Sunrise Mall.
“Please do not allow this awful operation in town,” said Baldwin in the letter released to the public. “The owner of this sleazy chain, Vince Covino, has not only flouted the law nearly everywhere he goes, but also left untold animal suffering in his wake.”
Baldwin goes on to describe many allegations and charges made against Covino and his company, including former employees coming forward about animal abuse and neglect in the organization, as well as agencies filing cease and desist orders against SeaQuest for failing to have a permit while running their operation.
“I urge you to deny the permit application that would allow Vince Covino to bring his cruel and deadly operation to our lovely hamlet,” said Baldwin. “Decent people do not want it here.”
In response to the letter, Covino released the following statement to the Massapequa Observer denying that their company treats animals wrongly.
“SeaQuest successfully operates four interactive facilities at retail centers across the U.S and we continue to grow,” said Covino. “With a firm commitment to animal welfare and nature conservation, we adhere to strict guidelines of care with dedicated marine and husbandry teams along with a veterinarian supervising our husbandry staff at each location.”
Among those that helped Baldwin write the letter was John Di Leonardo, Long Island native and manager of PETA’s Animals in Entertainment campaign. He has been keeping track of SeaQuest for years and thinks the addition of the aquarium to Massapequa is not good for the town.
“Wherever SeaQuest goes, their owner breaks the law,” said Di Leonardo. “Covino seems to be just bouncing from place to place opening these aquariums, but its never been more clear that the public is against animals and entertainment. We used to have circuses on the island that no longer come and this is just like a sea circus trying to open in our backyard.”
The Town of Oyster Bay board has yet to come to a decision on whether to grant the permit and have not responded to the letter sent by Baldwin or outcry from PETA.
“The town welcomes all public comment prior to considering an application,” said town spokesperson Marta Kane in an email to the Observer.
Di Leonardo is still awaiting a chance to meet with the board about the issue, but says that he is hopeful that the board does not give SeaQuest a place in Westfield Mall.
“Oyster Bay and Long Island are no place for this corporation,” said Di Leonardo. “Oyster Bay has been sensitive to environmental issues in the past so we urge them to come out quickly and deny this application.”
Di Leonardo knows a lot of details about the alleged criminal acts by Covino. One example he gave was, at a location in Portland, OR, according to various news reports, more than 200 animals died over the course of three months in 2013 due to starvation and infection that were supposedly preventable. Vince’s brother, Ammon, who also founded SeaQuest, was sentenced to a year in jail for conspiracy to commit illegal wildlife trafficking. He has since been sent back to prison multiple times for violating parole and trying to open up more SeaQuest locations in Nevada and Utah, which he was legally not allowed to do so.
More recently, authorities in Colorado stripped the aquarium of it’s permit in July of this year after they found that the birds at their Littleton location were locked in makeshift and dangerous cages. They continued to run the business anyway and when they got caught, according to news reports, they tried to circumvent requirements by giving 80 birds to a teenage employee. Those birds were reportedly stored in the teenager’s garage.
“This is not the kind of organization you want on the island with or without animals,” said Di Leonardo. “Their behavior has not changed. They continue to ignore the law wherever they go.”
PETA will be holding a protest outside of the Westfield Sunrise Mall on Nov. 10. To read the entirety of Baldwin’s letter to the town, visit headlines.peta.org/seaquest-aquariums.