World / Crime & Legal

Owner of closed California sushi spot pleads guilty to selling whale meat

Reuters

The owner of a shuttered Los Angeles-area sushi restaurant has pleaded guilty to allowing meat from the endangered sei whale to be served at the upscale establishment, in a case that outraged animal rights activists, a federal prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Brian Vidor pleaded guilty in federal court in California on Monday to one count of illegally selling whale meat at his Santa Monica restaurant, The Hump, according to assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Mitchell.

The restaurant, which was located at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport, closed in 2010 as a result of an undercover federal investigation. A sister restaurant, Typhoon, remains open.

The charge against Vidor involved a 2005 sale of sei whale meat, in a case that demonstrated that consumption of whale meat, part of food culture in Japan, has on occasion occurred in the United States in violation of U.S. law.

Prosecutors said in a statement earlier this year that meat sold as whale to informants posing as customers at the restaurant was submitted to DNA testing and found to be endangered sei whale.

The sei whale, which can grow to a length of 15 to 22 yards (14 to 20 meters), became targeted for commercial whaling after stocks of the bigger blue and fin whales were depleted, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

The plea by Vidor comes after two chefs from his restaurant admitted to charges of conspiracy and sale of whale meat earlier this year. They are due to be sentenced in January, and could face more than 10 months in jail under federal sentencing guidelines.

Vidor, who has pleaded guilty to only one charge, faces a fine and probation under the terms of his plea agreement. He and Typhoon Restaurant Inc. are expected to be ordered to pay a combined fine of $27,500, Mitchell said. Sentencing is scheduled for February.

A Japanese national who provided the whale meat to the restaurant, mislabelling it as fatty tuna, has previously pleaded guilty to selling it.