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U.S. seeks San Fernando Valley man charged with smuggling piranhas

August 5, 2010 |  3:09 pm

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for the public's help in finding a San Fernando Valley man who was charged with smuggling and trafficking in piranhas and other protected species, the U.S. attorney’s office said Thursday.

Isaac Zimerman 61, of West Hills failed to appear for a federal court hearing July 12, prompting a federal judge to issue a warrant for his arrest. Officials are offering a reward of an undisclosed sum for information leading to his arrest.

Fish and Wildlife agents believe Zimerman could be trying to flee the country, if he has not done so already. Zimerman, his wife, Leonore Catalina Zimerman, and his Hawthorne-based company, River Wonders, were indicted by a federal grand jury last year in Los Angeles, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

In May, the three defendants were named in a 13-count indictment that superseded the first one. Zimerman was accused of conspiracy, illegal fish trafficking and smuggling, falsifying documents,and obstructing an investigation by the Fish and Wildlife Service, among other charges, according to a statement by the U.S. attorney’s office.

Most of the 13 felony counts in the indictment carry a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.

Prosecutors charge that Zimerman illegally imported and sold live piranha and fresh water stingrays, which are illegal to possess in most of the southern United States because of the threat they pose to humans and native species if they get into the water of warm-weather states, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Zimerman is also accused of using River Wonders and another Gardena-based company he owns called Da Tien Pets to sell, import and export live fish and some reptiles for the pet trade.

Zimerman’s wife pleaded guilty in June to illegal fish trafficking and is scheduled to be sentenced next month in federal court, prosecutors said.

Anyone with information on Zimmerman’s whereabouts is asked contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (310) 678-4901.

-- Ann M. Simmons