LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Two chefs have pleaded guilty Monday to serving meat from federally-protected sei whales.
Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 49, of Culver City, and Susumu Ueda, 40, of Lawndale, who worked at now-closed The Hump at Santa Monica Airport, pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor charges each – conspiracy and offering to, and selling, a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purchase. They each face up to three years in federal prison, plus fines and community service.
The chefs and Typhoon Restaurant Inc., parent company of The Hump, were initially charged in 2010, but the charges were dropped and later refiled and revised last month.
Federal officials were tipped off to the unusual offering at The Hump in 2010 by the filmmakers of the documentary "The Cove."
According to court documents, Yamamoto and Ueda purchased the meat from Gardena-based seafood dealer Ginichi Ohira, who procured it from a supplier in Japan.
Ohira, who is a Japanese national, previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of importing endangered whale meat and selling it to Southland sushi restaurants. He is awaiting sentencing.
The indictment, which described a conspiracy between 2007 and 2010, says Ohira imported several pounds of whale meat from Tokyo to the United States with an invoice that described the meat as fatty tuna and delivered the meat to The Hump.
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 the affidavit.
The restaurant owner admitted -- and apologized for -- serving sei, pledged to make a substantial contribution to whale preservation or endangered species groups. The restaurant subsequently closed in spring 2010.
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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