Crime & Justice

West Hills man sought for smuggling protected fish

LOS ANGELES -- A $1,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of a San Fernando Valley man charged with smuggling and trafficking in piranhas, stingrays and other protected fish.

Isaac Zimerman, 61, of West Hills, failed to appear for a hearing in Los Angeles federal court on July 12, at which time an arrest warrant was issued, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents believe Zimerman may be trying to leave the United States, if he hasn't done so already.

Zimerman, his Hawthorne-based River Wonders company, and his wife, Leonore Catalina Zimerman, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles in August 2009, prosecutors said.

Last May, the three defendants were named in a 13-count superseding indictment that accuses Zimerman of conspiracy, illegal fish trafficking, smuggling fish into the United States, falsifying documents, obstructing an investigation by the Fish and Wildlife Service, making false statements to the
Fish and Wildlife Service, smuggling fish out of the United States, and smuggling fish out of the United States while free on bond in this case, prosecutors said.

Most of the 13 felony counts in the indictment carry maximum sentences of five years in federal prison, prosecutors noted.

The indictment alleges Zimerman illegally imported and sold live piranha and fresh water stingrays.

It is illegal to possess or sell live piranhas and fresh water stingrays in California and across most of the southern United States. Both are considered invasive species that could become established and pose a threat to humans and to native species if intentionally or accidentally released into the
temperate waters of states with warm climates.

In addition to River Wonders, Zimerman owns Da Tien Pets in Gardena, prosecutors said.

He uses both companies to sell, import and export live fish and some reptiles for the pet trade, officials said.

Zimerman's wife pleaded guilty in June to illegal fish trafficking and is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 20 in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Anyone with information on Zimerman's location is asked to call the Fish and Wildlife Service at (310) 678-4901.

KPCC wire services contributed to this report.