Man jailed for stealing succulents from California parks

A man was sentenced to two years in federal prison last week for attempting to export at least $150,000 worth of wild succulents he poached from native habitats in Northern California state parks, a said the United States Department of Justice.

On October 11, 2018, Byungsu Kim, 46, and co-defendants Youngin Back, 47, and Bong Jun Kim, 46, traveled by car from Los Angeles International Airport to Crescent City, California with plans to harvest wild plants and smuggle them into South Korea, the department said in a Jan. 20 statement. Throughout October 2018, they uprooted plants from the ground at DeMartin State Beach in Klamath, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park in Crescent City, and Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino County. , says the department. The Dudleya plants – a type of succulent with a pretty rose shape that grows along coastal cliffs – were then brought to a nursery operated by Kim in Vista, a town near San Diego.

Because growing Dudleyas in nurseries takes years, smugglers have been known to harvest wild, live plants from the ground in Northern California and export them overseas where they are sold on the black market.


Byungsu Kim scheduled an inspection with a county agriculture official at the Vista nursery and “falsely told him that the government-issued certificate needed to export the plants should list 1,397 Dudleya plants for export to the South Korea and that the ‘place of origin’ of the factories was San Diego County,” the department said.

The thieves then transported the plants to a commercial exporter in Compton to smuggle their shipment into South Korea, but the effort was stopped by local law enforcement who obtained a search warrant and found 3,715 poached Dudleya plants in boxes labeled “rush” and “live plants,” the department said.

The department said internet search history on Kim’s phone – including an indication that he had read a press release about the arrest and conviction of three other Dudleya poachers – showed he knew. that the taking of the plants was illegal.

The three accused were arrested. California authorities confiscated Byungsu Kim’s South Korean passport after his arrest, but he later obtained a new passport in January 2019 “by falsely claiming to the South Korean consulate in Los Angeles that he had lost his passport”, the department said.

Byungsu Kim and Back reportedly fled to Mexico on foot in May 2019 through the Tijuana-San Ysidro border crossing after learning federal charges were pending against them. With his fraudulent passport, Kim flew with Back from Mexico to China, and eventually to South Korea, the department said.

Kim surfaced in South Africa in October 2019, where he was arrested for illegally collecting plants from protected areas for export to South Korea. After pleading guilty to the criminal charges in South Africa and spending a year in detention, he was extradited to the United States in October 2020, where he has since been held by the federal government.

Kim was sentenced on Jan. 20 by U.S. District Judge George H. Wu. He was ordered to pay $3,985 to the State of California to cover the cost of replanting stolen Dudleyas after his arrest, the report said. department. He pleaded guilty in September 2021 to one count of attempting to illegally export plants. Bong Jun Kim pleaded guilty in July 2019 to the same crime and spent four months in federal custody. Back remains a fugitive, the department said.

“[Byungsu Kim’s] the willful criminal conduct in October 2019 was not an isolated event: he had performed the same scheme multiple times in California,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum, the department said. “[Kim] had traveled to the United States more than 50 times since 2009. Customs records show he traveled for succulent-related purposes and often with tens of thousands of dollars in cash (sometimes declared, sometimes not) and fake phytosanitary certificates .

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