DOWNTOWN — Federal prosecutors asked a federal judge this week to dismiss criminal charges filed against the owners and a chef at The Hump, a former high-end sushi restaurant at the Santa Monica Airport that served endangered whale meat in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
In a single-page notice filed in Los Angeles federal court Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked that charges be dismissed against Typhoon Restaurant Inc., the parent company of The Hump, and one of the now-defunct eatery’s former chefs, Kiyoshiro Yamamoto.
“We’re asking for dismissal ‘without prejudice’ — meaning we can refile,” said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “It is still an open and active investigation and our seeking to have the charges … dismissed by no means signals that this case is over.”
Mrozek would not explain the rationale behind filing for a dismissal.
A federal magistrate judge must approve the request, Mrozek said.
An attorney for The Hump would not comment on the filing.
The parent company and Yamamoto, of Culver City, were each charged in U.S. District Court in Downtown Los Angeles on March 10 with a misdemeanor count of selling a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose.
The charges were the result of a covert operation that included several visits to the trendy sushi spot over a five-month period.
Federal officials said confidential informants secretly videotaped whale being served at the restaurant last October.
In subsequent visits, informants were offered whale — as well as blow fish and horse meat.
During another visit by undercover federal agents, a sushi chef was observed going out to his car and coming back apparently with whale meat, which was then prepared as sushi, Behtash wrote.
The first word of the unusual offering at The Hump came from the Oscar-winning team behind the documentary “The Cove.” The filmmakers tipped off federal officials that the restaurant was serving sushi identified as sei whale.
Sei whales are listed as an endangered species, and the sale of all whale meat is prohibited in the United States by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The misdemeanor federal charge carries a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison and a maximum fine of $100,000 for an individual or $200,000 for an organization.
The Hump — named for the aviation slang term for the Himalayas — operated for a dozen years near the Santa Monica Airport runway. In the midst of the media firestorm that erupted last month after the whale-meat charges came to light, the restaurant was closed.
“The Hump hopes that by closing its doors, it will help bring awareness to the detrimental effect that illegal whaling has on the preservation of our ocean ecosystem and species,” said a statement posted on the restaurant’s website, thehump.biz. “Closing the restaurant is a self-imposed punishment on top of the fine that will be meted out by the court.”
City officials served The Hump with a 10-day notice to rectify after the charges were filed. Violating federal law is cause to terminate the lease The Hump’s owners have with City Hall, which owns the building where The Hump and its sister restaurant Typhoon are located. City officials said the owners satisfied the 10-day notice by closing The Hump. Typhoon remains in operation.
The owner of The Hump said they would “be taking additional action to save endangered species. One such action will be to make a substantial contribution to one or more responsible organizations dedicated to the preservation of whales and other endangered species.”
It was not immediately known if Typhoon has made its promised contribution to any environmental organizations.
A recent study by scientists in the U.S., South Korea and Japan found that the whale meat served at The Hump came from a sei whale captured and killed as part of Japan’s controversial scientific hunt, which allows the country to kill a certain number of whales each year under the guise that it is being done for research purposes only.
Scientists who conducted the DNA analysis said it shows that there are serious problems with the Japanese hunt and better monitoring should be in place so the meat is not sold on the black market as part of an international smuggling network.