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Prosecutors Expected To Sentence Former West Hills Resident To Year In Jail For Attempted Fish Smuggling

Latest crime and court news.
Latest crime and court news.

Prosecutors are expected to ask a federal judge today to sentence a former West Hills resident to a year behind bars for attempting to smuggle a protected South American air-breathing fish species into the United States.

Isaac Zimerman, a 66-year-old U.S. citizen, was extradited from Mexico in September to face charges contained in a 13-count indictment.

Prosecutors said he used his now-defunct company, Hawthorne-based River Wonders LLC, to import Arapaima gigas, which can sometimes grow to 15 feet in length and have been known to leap from the water to catch low-flying birds, along with nearly 900 piranhas and dozens of river stingrays into the United States.

“Defendant was a sophisticated fish trafficker who built a successful business based on the illegal possession and sale of wildlife,” prosecutors wrote in pre-sentencing papers.

In a plea agreement, Zimerman admitted possessing the large South American freshwater fish, which were advertised for sale and shipped outside of California.     The indictment also contained allegations that Zimerman engaged in additional criminal conduct related to the falsification of documents, obstruction of proceedings, false statements and smuggling of protected Arapaima gigas from Peru while on pre-trial release.

Zimerman was apparently selling baby fish at about 10 inches in length for $180 each and shipping them overnight to their destinations in plastic bags with moisture.     The defendant was initially charged in 2009, along with his company and his wife. Leonor Zimerman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense in 2010, and her husband fled the United States that same year after prosecutors filed additional charges alleging that he continued to illegally export fish while on bond, according to federal prosecutors.

Special agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service tracked Zimerman’s movements through Europe, to Israel and eventually to Mexico.

On March 3, Zimerman was arrested near Metepec, Mexico, at the conclusion of a four-year manhunt. During his flight to avoid prosecution, Zimerman changed his appearance and took other steps to avoid detection and arrest, authorities say.

The Mexican government permitted Zimerman to be extradited to the United States on two of the felony charges related to the illegal exportation of Arapaima gigas. Zimerman faces up to 10 years in federal prison at sentencing, but prosecutors are recommending a year behind bars followed by three years of federal probation.

His wife, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to a misdemeanor count of illegal fish trafficking, was sentenced in January 2011 to 21 months of probation and ordered to pay a $1,500 fine.

Arapaima gigas are known as fast growers and powerful swimmers that will sometimes jump out of the water to snatch prey.

In aquariums, they seldom reach over 2 feet, but in the wild, they often grow to about 6 1/2 feet long, with the largest specimen reported to have reached almost 15 feet in length.

Because of their large size and appetite for other fish, they are not considered a good choice as a home pet and need to be housed in a very large aquarium or pond.

in Crime, News
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