LOS ANGELES – A federal grand jury has returned a nine-count indictment that charges a now-shuttered Santa Monica sushi restaurant and two men who worked there as chefs with selling meat from Sei whales, which are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The indictment, which was filed yesterday afternoon charges:
Typhoon Restaurant, Inc., which is the parent company of the now-closed The Hump Restaurant, which was located at the Santa Monica Airport;
Kiyoshiro Yamamoto, 48, of Culver City; and
Susumu Ueda, 39, of Lawndale.
The indictment accuses the three defendants of conspiring to import and sell whale meat, specifically meat from Sei whales, which are listed as an endangered species.
Yamamoto and Ueda allegedly ordered the whale meat from Ginichi Ohira, a Japanese national who previously pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally selling a marine mammal product. Once Ohira received the whale meat in the United States, he prepared an invoice that incorrectly described the meat as fatty tuna and delivered the whale meat to The Hump, according to the indictment that describes a conspiracy that last from 2007 into 2010.
According to the indictment and documents previously filed in this matter, The Hump 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, and receipts given to the informants who went to The Hump indicated that they had purchased “whale,” according to an affidavit previously filed.
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 they are listed as endangered in the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
In addition to the conspiracy charge, The Hump is charged with smuggling and Yamamoto is charged with two counts of smuggling.
The Hump 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.
Yamamoto is additionally charged with obstructing an official proceeding. Contained in that charges is an allegation that Yamamoto instructed other sushi chefs at The Hump to lie about the source of the whale meat.
Ueda is additionally charged with making a false statement to federal investigators about the source of the whale meat.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
If they are convicted of the charges against them in the indictment, Yamamoto would face a statutory maximum penalty of 67 years in federal prison, and Ueda would face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years.
If it is convicted, Typhoon Restaurant, Inc. would face fines totaling $1.2 million.
Yamamoto, Ueda and representatives of The Hump will be summoned to appear for arraignments in United States District Court in the coming weeks.
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 & Game, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The investigation into The Hump was started after members of the general public brought information to NOAA. Anyone with information about the illegal sale of marine mammals is encouraged to call the NOAA Law Enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964.
Release No. 13-018