Two chefs who worked at a now-closed Santa Monica sushi restaurant pleaded guilty today to serving meat from federally protected sei whales.
Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda, who worked at the The Hump at Santa Monica Airport, each admitted three misdemeanor charges — conspiracy and offering to, and selling, a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose.
The chefs and Typhoon Restaurant Inc., 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 up to three years in federal prison, plus fines and community service.
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 eatery 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 is awaiting sentencing.
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 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.