Merchant admits smuggling 39,000 piranhas for retailers

01/30/2014 7:11 AM

01/30/2014 7:12 AM

Federal authorities say a tropical fish merchant has admitted smuggling more than 39,000 piranhas into New York City and mislabeling them as common aquarium fish.

The Justice Department says Joel Rakower and his Queens company, Transship Discounts Ltd., pleaded guilty Wednesday and agreed to pay $73,000 in fines.

Piranhas are illegal in New York City and more than two dozen states.

Prosecutors say Rakower imported the piranhas in 2011 and 2012 and resold them to fish retailers in several states. Only 850 were recovered.

His lawyer tells Newsday that Rakower had been in the wholesale tropical fish supply business for 30 years. He says the 66-year-old Melville man made an error in judgment and is now paying for it.

Sentencing was set for April 24.

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