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Whale-meat importer pleads guilty

June 2, 2011 |  1:03 pm


A man who sold whale meat to a Santa Monica sushi restaurant faces eight to 14 months in prison for the crime.

Ginichi Ohira, 50, pleaded guilty Tuesday, acknowledging he "knowingly sold a marine mammal product, namely, whale meat, and ... did so for an unauthorized purpose," according to a court document.

Charges related to the illegal sale of whale meat were originally filed in March 2010.

The case came to light when federal agents and animal-rights activists cooperated in a video sting orchestrated by the associate producer of the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove," which looked at the slaughter of dolphins in Japan.

Activists used a mini video camera to record their order of a $600 omakase, or chef's choice, meal at the Hump, a trendy restaurant near the Santa Monica Airport.

The two activists asked whether they could get whale meat as part of the chef's choice, and a waitress then served eight pieces, according to a federal affidavit.
Activists bagged samples that were tested and later determined to be sei whale.

"Someone should not be able to walk into a restaurant and order a plate of an endangered species," U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement at the time.

The restaurant closed in March; its operators also issued a public apology.

The plea agreement states that Ohira, who has moved back to Japan, began illegally importing whale meat from Tokyo in about 2001 and selling it to Southland sushi restaurants. These included one in El Segundo, to a chef who later began working at the Hump.

A June 28, 2007, invoice booked into evidence showed a price of $5,106 for a single transaction.

Besides prison time, the maximum sentence could include a year of probation and a fine in excess of $100,000.

Sentencing is set for September, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.


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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Protesters outside the Hump sushi restuarant in March 2010. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times