LOS ANGELES — Two sushi chefs who worked at The Hump restaurant at Santa Monica Airport are expected to plead guilty to serving meat from federally protected sei whales, according to federal prosecutors and court records obtained Thursday.
Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda are charged in a three-count indictment with conspiring to import and sell meat from the endangered species, a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
As part of an agreement with prosecutors, the two defendants will plead guilty to all three counts and be ordered to pay a fine, perform 200 hours of community service and cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in their prosecution of The Hump’s parent company, Typhoon Restaurant Inc.
A trial against the company is set for April 15, federal officials said. The restaurant group has been charged with conspiracy, smuggling and the sale of a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose.
Yamamoto, 49, of Culver City, and Ueda, 40, of Lawndale could also face a possible maximum sentence of three years in prison, according to reports. A court date has not yet been set.
Calls to attorneys for the chefs and the restaurant group were not returned by presstime.
The chefs and Typhoon Restaurant Inc. were initially charged in 2010, but those charges were dropped, later refiled and revised last month.
The chefs made their initial court appearance Wednesday, but did not enter guilty pleas.
Federal officials were alerted to the sale of illegal whale meat at The Hump in 2010 after the team behind the Oscar-award winning documentary “The Cove” conducted an undercover investigation, capturing video of a waitress at the restaurant allegedly serving whale. They also went so far as to send meat samples to the Marine Mammal Institute for DNA testing, which later showed the meat did come from sei whales.
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 faces sentencing Monday.
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.
A check for $15,367.75 was made out to Ohira’s company E-Fish Network for whale meat sold to The Hump, prosecutors allege.
The Hump sold whale sushi to informants posing as customers on three occasions in the fall of 2009 and in early 2010, according to previously filed documents,
The Hump apologized and closed in spring 2010. At the time, the restaurant owner admitted serving sei, pledging to make a substantial contribution to whale preservation or endangered species groups.
Gary Lincenberg, attorney for the restaurant group, said in February 2013 that his client is disappointed that the charges were re-filed “years after the owner of The Hump made substantial donations to several nonprofit groups dedicated to saving endangered species.”
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.
Anyone with information about the illegal sale of marine mammals is encouraged to call the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Law Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.