The exterior of the Hump sushi restaurant, located at the Santa Monica Airport.… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )
It made for a wild tale three years ago when a Santa Monica sushi restaurant abruptly closed after it was disclosed that the hipster hangout was selling illegal whale meat.
The chef and the parent company of the Hump at the Santa Monica Airport initially were charged with misdemeanors after a sting operation was captured by a documentary crew.
But now the stakes have been raised. A federal grand jury has indicted the owners of the parent company and two of its onetime chefs, charging them with felonies that carry lengthy prison terms.
The two chefs and the ownership group of the Hump are charged with nine counts of conspiracy to import and sell sei whale meat from 2007 to 2010, a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The indictment accuses Typhoon Restaurant Inc., the parent company of the now-closed Hump; chef Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 48, of Culver City; and chef Susumu Ueda, 39, of Lawndale of conspiring to import and sell the meat of sei whales, which are listed as an endangered species.
Federal agents and animal activists cooperated in a video sting orchestrated by the associate producer of the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove."
Whale meat is popular in Japan and Norway, and whaling by Japanese fleets is controversial. Import of whale meat into the United States is illegal.
Yamamoto could face up to 67 years in federal prison and Ueda up to 10 years. The restaurant's parent company faces a fine of $1.2 million.