Kiyoshiro Yamamoto from Culver City was indicted last week by a federal grand jury for conspiring to import and sell illegal whale meat, a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
He was working at the now-closed Hump Restaurant in Santa Monica. The indictment also named sushi chef and Susumu Ueda owners of the Hump's parent company, Typhoon Restaurant Inc
The importer of the whale meat, Ginichi Ohira pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count last year. He smuggled the product into the United States labeled as Fatty Tuna. Federal prosecutors dropped charges against the chefs and the ownership group at that time although sources inside the Justice Department confirmed that the investigation was ongoing.
The indictment stated: "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."
It appears Ohira took a plea agreement so as to not be named in the new charges.
Federal investigators were initially tipped off by film producers who ate at the restaurant. The film makers reportedly had activists purchase and secretly pocketed the suspected whale meat for further testing. The tests showed the product was sei whale meat.
Protesters picketed the restaurant and demanded it be closed.
Two years after closing, Hump’s website still echoes its regrets stating:
“After twelve years doing business in Santa Monica, The Hump will be closing its doors effective March 20th, 2010.
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 ecosystems and species. Closing the restaurant is a self-imposed punishment on top of the fine that will be meted out by the court. The Owner of The Hump also will 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.
The Hump apologizes to our loyal customers, the community of Santa Monica, and the public at large for our illegal actions. While the current difficulties faced by The Hump overshadow the many friendships formed over the years, we want our customers and friends to know how much we thank you for your support.”
Yamamoto went on to open an omakase restaurant in Palms called Yamakase after The Hump shuttered. He is listed as co-owner and executive chef. No reports of whale meat sashimi being served there.
Yamamoto faces up to 67 years in prison if convicted, while Ueda could face up to 10 years. The restaurant owners could be slapped with up to $1.2 Million in penalties.