Santa Monica Sushi Chefs to Admit Selling Whale Meat

Two chefs who worked at a now-closed Santa Monica sushi restaurant will plead guilty to serving meat from federally protected sei whales, according to court papers obtained today.

Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda, who worked at the The Hump at Santa Monica Airport, are charged in a three-count indictment with conspiring to import and sell meat from the endangered species.

The chefs and Typhoon Restaurant Inc., the parent company of The Hump, were initially charged in 2010, but the charges were dropped, later refiled and revised last month.

Yamamoto, 49, of Culver City, and 40-year-old Ueda of Lawndale each face a possible maximum sentence of three years in prison plus fines, according to court papers. They made their initial Los Angeles federal court appearance today, but did not enter guilty pleas.

The first word of the unusual offering at The Hump came in 2010 from the Oscar-winning team behind the documentary "The Cove." The filmmakers, who went to the restaurant and were able to get a sample, tipped off federal officials that the restaurant was serving sei whale.

Yamamoto and Ueda purchased the meat from Gardena-based seafood dealer Ginichi Ohira, who had procured it from a supplier in Japan, according to court documents.

Ohira, a Japanese national, previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of importing endangered whale meat and selling it to Southland sushi restaurants. He faces sentencing Monday.

After Ohira imported several pounds of whale meat from Tokyo to the United States, he prepared an invoice that incorrectly described the meat as fatty tuna and delivered the meat to The Hump, according to the indictment that describes a conspiracy lasting from 2007 into 2010.

According to previously filed documents, The Hump sold whale sushi to informants posing as customers on three occasions in the fall of 2009 and in early 2010.

The meat sold as "whale" on two of the occasions was examined by scientists, who determined it was sei whale via DNA testing. Receipts given to the informants who went to The Hump indicated that they had purchased "whale," according to an affidavit.

The Hump apologized and closed in spring 2010. At the time, the restaurant owner admitted serving sei, pledged to make a substantial contribution to whale preservation or endangered species groups.

It is illegal to sell any kind of whale meat in the United States. Sei whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and listed as endangered in the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

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