LOS ANGELES – Mexico has extradited an American citizen who formerly lived in West Hills to face federal charges related to the illegal trafficking of the world’s largest freshwater fish, a South American species known as Arapaima gigas.
Isaac Zimerman, 66, is expected to appear this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles. He was extradited last week and arrived in the United States on September 24.
Zimerman was charged in a 13-count indictment with using his company, the Hawthorne-based River Wonders LLC, to import piranhas and river stingrays into the United States. Zimerman allegedly possessed those fish in California, and then they were advertised for sale, sold to customers, and shipped to states outside of California. The indictment also contains 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 the United States while on pre-trial release.
Zimerman was initially charged in 2009, along with his company and his wife, Leonor Catalina Zimerman. While Leonor Zimerman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense in 2010, Isaac Zimerman fled the United States that same year after prosecutors filed additional charges alleging that he continued to illegally export fish while on bond. Special agents with the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) tracked Zimerman’s movements through Europe, to Israel and eventually to Mexico.
On March 3, 2015, concluding a four-year manhunt, Zimerman was arrested near Metepec, Mexico. During his flight to avoid prosecution, Zimerman changed his appearance and took other steps to avoid detection and arrest.
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.
If he is convicted of the two charges in the indictment that were the subject of the extradition, Zimerman would face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
Leonor Zimerman pleaded guilty in 2010 to a misdemeanor count of illegal fish trafficking. She was sentenced by United States District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank in January 2011 to 21 months of probation and was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine.
The arrest of Isaac Zimerman concluded a four-year manhunt led by FWS, which received assistance from the Mexico City attaché of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the FWS Intel Unit, Interpol, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs.