Another bizarre threat served up by the United States federal criminal-justice system:
The shuttered Hump restaurant in Santa Monica and two of its sushi chefs have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges including selling sei whale meat, an announcement from the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles says.
Typhoon Restaurant Inc., the parent company of the Hump, and Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and Susumu Ueda were named in the nine-count indictment. Other charges include conspiracy to import and sell meat from the endangered sei whale and lying to federal investigators.
The Hump closed in 2010 after an associate producer of the documentary "The Cove," which investigated the killing of dolphins in Japan, orchestrated a video sting. The Times reported that two participating activists asked if they could order whale meat as part of an omakase meal and a waitress served eight pieces, according to a federal affidavit. DNA tests confirmed the meat came from a sei whale, which is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It's illegal to sell any kind of whale meat in the U.S.
If convicted, Yamamoto faces up to 67 years in prison, and Ueda faces a maximum 10-year term. Typhoon would face fines totaling $1.2 million.
Yes, you read that right: 67 years for selling whale meat, conspiracy to sell whale meat (which, in the wonderful world of American criminal justice, is actually a separate crime), and lying to federal investigators. So, a chef sells endangered whale meat once to undercover investigators, and now faces 67 years in prison.
To add some context, the chance of this fellow actually getting a 67-year-sentence is low. A federal judge will do the sentencing, and has discretion to impose a much lower sentence than the theoretical maximum. What's happening here is that prosecutors have stacked up as many separate charges as possible to terrorize this man into cutting a deal. If you were faced with this tactic, you would think as follows: There's probably a 90% chance I'll get a sentence of something like 5 years, a 9 percent chance I'll get no prison time, and a 1% chance of getting a sentence of 50+ years (this just an illustration, federal sentencing law is actually more complex than this).
What would you do to avoid even a slight possibility that the rest of your life will be utterly destroyed? A lot. You would take a deal for, say, 8 years. At least then you can be certain of the outcome. If you hadn't been threatened with 67 years in prison, you might have risked a trial, or at least insisted on a deal for 2 or 3 years in prison. But the prosecution can bludgeon you into throwing several extra years of your life away by threatening you with an insanely long sentence that is, at least, theoretically permissible.
And to think that Americans pride themselves on being rugged individualists with a distrust of government power.