- Last Updated: 3:38 PM, November 29, 2012
- Posted: 1:01 PM, November 29, 2012
A crooked caviar importer got hooked this morning for a fishy scheme dating back more than two decades.
Isidoro "Mario" Garbarino -- who spent 23 years on the run following his indictment -- pleaded guilty to smuggling more than $10 million worth of fancy fish eggs into the United States between 1984 and 1987.
Garbarino, 69, agreed to serve up to four years in the slammer and be deported back to his native Italy once he's freed.
He also promised to cough up $3 million in unpaid import duties, penalties and interest within the next six weeks.
"I will pay it promptly," he told the judge.
Garbarino was originally arrested in 1987 on 85 counts involving his Bronx-based Aquamar Gourment Imports company, but he jumped bail and fled the country.
He was busted again in September after Panamaian authorities stopped him while he was changing planes in that country, and put him on a flight to Houston "against his will," defense lawyer Marc Greenwald said.
Garbarino's wide-ranging indictment had accused him of masterminding a scheme in which he duped Pan Am airlines into buying purported "Russian Beluga premium quality caviar" to serve its first-class customers.
In reality, he passed off "lesser quality Russian Sevruga or American caviar....at the higher prices applicatble to such premium quality caviar," according to the indictment, which was signed by then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani.
As part of his plea bargain, the feds dropped the charges involving Pan Am, which was the world's largest airline before going bust in 1991.
Sentencing was set for Jan. 7.