LOS ANGELES -- A now-shuttered Southern California sushi restaurant and two of its chefs were indicted on conspiracy and other charges for allegedly serving illegal and endangered whale meat in 2009, authorities said Friday.
Federal prosecutors said sushi chefs Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda ordered the whale meat from fish importer Ginichi Ohira, and served it at The Hump restaurant in Santa Monica. Authorities said Ohira falsely described the product as fatty tuna on invoices and delivered it to the restaurant.
Ohira pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally selling a marine mammal product.
The nine-count indictment Thursday named Typhoon Restaurant Inc., the restaurant's parent company, and the sushi chefs. If convicted, 48-year-old Yamamoto, of Culver City, faces up to 67 years in prison, and 39-year-old Ueda, of Lawndale, faces a maximum 10-year term. The company would face fines totaling $1.2 million if found guilty.
Court documents show that on one occasion, the restaurant paid Ohira more than $15,000 for the whale meat.
In October 2009, marine mammal activists posing as customers were served whale during a visit to the restaurant. Whale meat was served to the activists two other times, federal prosecutors said.
Tests confirmed the meat came from a Sei whale, an endangered species protected by international treaties.
Japan kills hundreds of whales in Antarctic waters each year under its research whaling program, which has triggered violent protests by conservationists and drew strong objections by diplomats.
Eating Sei whale meat is common in Japan, Korea and Norway and among native peoples in Alaska and Canada, but it is illegal to export the meat because of the Sei whale's endangered status.
The company and Yamamoto were initially charged three years ago, but prosecutors sought to have the charges dropped with the option to refile them at a later date.