The parent company of a former Santa Monica sushi restaurant and two of its chefs have been charged with allegedly conspiring to import and sell meat of endangered Sei whales.
A federal grand jury has returned a nine-count indictment charging Typhoon Restaurant, Inc., the parent company of the now-closed The Hump Restaurant at Santa Monica Airport; along with Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 48, of Culver City and Susumu Ueda, 39, of Lawndale, U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek said.
The renewed charges come after an investigation was initiated in early 2010, when allegations surfaced of the restaurant serving meat from Sei whales, which are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
According to the indictment and documents previously filed in the case, The Hump allegedly sold whale sushi to informants posing as customers on three specific occasions in the fall of 2009 and in early 2010. The meat sold as “whale” on two of the occasions was examined by scientists, who tested the DNA of the meat and determined it was Sei whale, according to the indictment. Receipts given to the informants who went to the restaurant indicated that they had purchased “whale,” according to a previously filed affidavit.
In addition to the conspiracy charge, The Hump is charged with smuggling and Yamamoto is charged with two counts of smuggling, Mrozek said.
The restaurant is also charged with a misdemeanor count of the sale of a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose, and Yamamoto is charged with two misdemeanor counts of sale of a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose, Mrozek said.
Ueda is additionally charged with making a false statement to federal investigators about the source of the whale meat, according to the indictment.
If they are convicted, Yamamoto could face a statutory maximum penalty of 67 years in federal prison, and Ueda could face a maximum sentence of 10 years.
The Typhoon Restaurant, Inc. would face fines totaling $1.2
million if it is convicted.
The investigation into The Hump and Yamamoto was conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement. NOAA investigators received assistance from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.