Chef Kiyoshiro Yamamoto and head sushi chef Susumu Ueda at the Hump restaurant pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and the sale of marine mammals in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Los Angeles Times said.
Originally charged in a nine-count indictment that included allegations of smuggling, obstruction and false statements, the two chefs are cooperating in the government's case and could be called to testify in the April trial against Typhoon Restaurant Inc., the Hump's parent company, the Times said.
The investigation began after producers of the documentary "The Cove" secretly filmed whale meat being served off-menu to customers at the Hump at Santa Monica Municipal Airport. "The Cove," a 2009 documentary that won an Academy Award, examines dolphin hunting practices in Japan.
Ginichi Ohira, the company that supplied the whale meat, pleaded guilty in 2011 but hasn't been sentenced.
During Monday's hearing U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins, the chefs agreed with statements read by the prosecutor, the Times said. Among the prosecutor's statements were that Ueda received approval from the restaurant's owner and manager to order several pounds of whale from Ohira and that Yamamoto served whale at least twice in early 2010.
Ueda and Yamamoto each face a maximum of three years in prison when they are sentenced May 12.
Ueda's attorney, James Spertus, said after the hearing that outrage over his client's actions was misplaced. Spertus said the chef lived most of his life in Japan, where whale is regularly served, and did not participate in the capture or importing of whale, the attorney said.