A man was sentenced Thursday to two years in federal prison for trying to illegally export at least $150,000 worth of succulents pulled from state parks in Northern California, officials said.
The South Korean man, 46-year-old Byungsu Kim, was also ordered to pay $3,985 in restitution to the State of California to help cover the costs of replanting all the stolen plants, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release.
Dudleya plants from coastal areas of Northern California are particularly valuable in Asian countries, and smugglers are known to harvest wild, living Dudleya plants from the ground and export them to be sold on the black market abroad, according to federal authorities.
In 2018, Kim and two other men pulled out numerous Dudleya plants from DeMartin State Beach in Klamath, the Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park and Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino County, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Authorities said Kim had searched on his phone for “poaching succulents” and “dudleya” and had read a press release about the arrest and convictions of other Dudleya poachers.
“Kim knew the taking of the Dudleya plants was unlawful,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
The three then took the plants to a commercial exporter in Compton, where local law enforcement executed a search warrant at the cargo shipping company and found 3,715 Dudleya plants in boxes labeled “Rush” and “Live Plants.”
Those were the plants that had been pulled out of the ground from public lands in Northern California, authorities said.
California law enforcement officials then arrested Kim and confiscated his passport.
But he fraudulently obtained a new South Korean passport by falsely claiming to the consulate in Los Angeles that he had lost his passport, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. He used it to fly back to South Korea after fleeing to Mexico on foot through the Tijuana-San Ysidro border crossing.
Kim was later arrested in South Africa in October 2019 in connection with a similar scheme involving taking plants from protected areas, officials said.
He was eventually extradited to the U.S. in October 2020, after spending a year in custody in South Africa.
“[Kim’s] willful criminal conduct in October 2019 was not an isolated event: he had carried out the same scheme repeatedly in California,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “[Kim] had traveled to the United States more than 50 times since 2009. Customs records show that he was travelling for succulent-related purposes and often with tens of thousands of dollars in cash (sometimes declared, sometime not) and fake phytosanitary certificates.”