LA Sushi chef who served endangered whale could face maximum sentence of life in prison

Remember the LA sushi scandal involving a chef who served up endangered Sei whale meat at The Hump, a once-popular restaurant next to the Santa Monica Airport? It was a sting set up in 2009 by one of the activist-producers of the movie The Cove, and it worked.

Three years later, the US Attorney's office in LA today announced that a federal grand jury has indicted the parent company of the now-closed venue, and two of its chefs. Typhoon Restaurant Inc. and sushi chefs Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda are named in the nine-count indictment.

If convicted and given the maximum sentence, 48-year-old Yamamoto could end up behind bars for up to 67 years, which would effectively be a life sentence. 39-year-old Ueda could face up to 10 years. The parent company, Typhoon, which continues to operate another popular restaurant next door to the Hump's former site, could be fined up to $1.2 million.

The indictments include selling sei whale meat, engaging in conspiracy to import and sell the endangered mammal's meat, and lying to federal investigators. From the LA Times:

Yamamoto, 48, and Ueda, 39, allegedly ordered the whale meat from Ginichi Ohira, who has already pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. According to the U.S. attorney's office, Ohira received the whale meat in the U.S., prepared an invoice that described the meat as fatty tuna and delivered it to the Hump.

Court documents show that on one occasion, the restaurant paid Ohira more than $15,000 for the whale meat. In October 2009, marine mammal activists posing as customers were served whale during a visit to the restaurant. Whale meat was served to the activists two other times, federal prosecutors said.

More coverage at the LA Times, and the LA Weeekly's Informer blog.

Many species of fish served in American sushi restaurants are effectively endangered species, thanks to overfishing and destructive fishing methods. One could argue that 67 years in prison is an awfully long time for serving up one endangered marine species, when any number of others are also threatened. That said, the lying to feds part may have been what ratcheted the charges up to such dramatic levels.

What do you think?