Former fugitive fish smuggler pleads guilty, prosecutors say

A former West Hills resident who once led authorities on a four-year manhunt through Europe and Israel pleaded guilty Tuesday to smuggling endangered fish into Canada, federal prosecutors said.

Isaac Zimerman, 66, admitted to smuggling two Arapaima gigas, a giant freshwater fish that is native to South America and is protected under a global registry of endangered wildlife, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.

Zimerman; his Hawthorne-based company, River Wonders; and his wife, Leonor Catalina Zimerman, had been charged in 2009 in connection with an illicit global fish trading enterprise. Prosecutors had alleged they were smuggling and trafficking piranhas and fresh water stingrays.

A 13-count indictment filed in 2010 heaped on more charges against the Zimermans and River Wonders, and accused Isaac Zimerman of conspiracy, illegal fish trafficking and smuggling, falsifying documents and obstructing an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among other charges, according to prosecutors.


That year, Leonor Zimerman entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of illegal fish trafficking and was sentenced to 21 months of probation, prosecutors said.

Her husband, however, fled the U.S., prompting a global search.

As a fugitive, Isaac Zimerman moved through Europe, Israel and Mexico, where he was arrested in March near Metepec, about 40 miles southwest of Mexico City. He was extradited to the U.S. in September.

Isaac Zimerman faces up to 10 years in prison at his sentencing by U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II, scheduled for Feb. 8.

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno.