The now-closed Hump restaurant has been accused of selling whale meat sushi. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
The shuttered Hump restaurant in Santa Monica and two of its sushi chefs have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges including selling sei whale meat, an announcement from the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles says.
Typhoon Restaurant Inc., the parent company of the Hump, and Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda were named in the nine-count indictment. Other charges include conspiracy to import and sell meat from the endangered sei whale and lying to federal investigators.
The Hump closed in 2010 after an associate producer of the documentary "The Cove," which investigated the killing of dolphins in Japan, orchestrated a video sting. The Times reported that two participating activists asked if they could order whale meat as part of an omakase meal and a waitress served eight pieces, according to a federal affidavit. DNA tests confirmed the meat came from a sei whale, which is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It's illegal to sell any kind of whale meat in the U.S.
If convicted, Yamamoto faces up to 67 years in prison, and Ueda faces a maximum 10-year term. Typhoon would face fines totaling $1.2 million.
Yamamoto, 48, and Ueda, 39, allegedly ordered the whale meat from Ginichi Ohira, who has already pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. According to the U.S. attorney's office, Ohira received the whale meat in the U.S., prepared an invoice that described the meat as fatty tuna and delivered it to the Hump.
The attorney for Yamamoto did not immediately return a call for comment.
James W. Spertus, the lawyer for Ueda, said, "It's very unfortunate that the U.S. attorney's office has decided to charge my client after years of doing nothing. The case was charged initially as a misdemeanor.
"The goverment's theory of this case is completely upside down. The federal government has given a pass to the most culpable person in this chain, the supplier, and instead has focused on the sushi chef serving what customers ordered."
Assistant U.S. Atty. Dennis Mitchell in the environmental crimes section said he had no comment.
The company and Yamamoto initially were charged three years ago, but prosecutors sought to have the charges dropped with the option to refile at a later date.
The chefs and the restaurant parent company are due in U.S. District Court in coming weeks, the announcement said.
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