LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A Gardena seafood dealer who imported endangered whale meat from Tokyo and sold it to local sushi restaurants faces up to one year in prison and a fine of $100,000 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges.
Ginichi Y. Ohira, 50, entered a guilty plea late Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court to a misdemeanor charge of knowingly selling a marine mammal product for an unauthorized purpose, in violation of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Specifically, Ohira sold protected sei whale meat to The Hump in Santa Monica, which closed its doors last year after federal prosecutors charged the owner and chef with sales of the federally protected mammal.
Ohira faces a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison, one year under supervised release, and a fine of $100,000, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The defendant began importing whale meat from Japan about 10 years ago.
Among his customers was a sushi chef at The Hump, according to Ohira’s plea agreement with the government.
The meat was discovered in visits to the restaurant by undercover agents and environmental advocates who pocketed the sushi for testing.
Charges against the restaurant and chef were dismissed in 2010 after the eatery admitted serving up sei, pledged to make a substantial contribution to whale preservation or endangered species groups and shut down entirely.
The first word of the unusual offering at The Hump came from the Oscar-winning team behind the documentary “The Cove.” The filmmakers tipped off federal officials that the restaurant was serving sushi identified as sei whale.
Sei whales are listed as an endangered species, and the sale of all whale meat is prohibited in the United States by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Ohira will be sentenced on Sept. 27, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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