As many of you know, I am a huge advocate of hiking and particularly our national parks. We have amazing parks and most of us take great efforts to avoid leaving traces or causing damage to our natural areas. That is why a recent arrest is so alarming. Recently, three South Korean nationals were charged after an arrest at Los Angeles International Airport with a van filled with more than 3,700 Dudleya succulents. The spiky blue-green plants are prized in Asia. The men were tracked as they stripped parks of the plants and stuffed them into backpacks.
These plants can be sold for $50 a piece abroad and the three men have made repeated trips to Northern California to steal the plant life. They were arrested after dropping off 3,715 succulents at a commercial exporter’s warehouse.
The two-count indictment charges each man with conspiracy to knowingly export plants from the United States that had been taken in violation of California law, and attempting to export plants taken in violation of state law. The men are “Byungsu Kim, 44, who operates a nursery in Vista and is a fugitive; Youngin Back, 45, who also is a fugitive; and Bong Jun Kim, 44, who is in federal custody.”
“Upon his October 2018 arrival in Los Angeles via a one-way ticket from South Korea, Byungsu Kim displayed records stating that his nursery had shipped 5,731 Dudleya plants (501 pounds) to South Korea on or about September 12, 2018, and that the purported “place of origin” of the plants was San Diego County. Since 2009, Byungsu Kim had traveled to the United States from South Korea more than 50 times, and in 2013 had 80 plants seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
This is from the Justice Department
After their October 2018 arrival in Los Angeles, the trio allegedly drove to various state parks where Dudleya plants grow, including DeMartin State Beach in Klamath, California, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino County. Law enforcement surveilling the defendants observed them pull the plants out of the ground and then transport the harvested Dudleya plants to a nursery that Byungsu Kim operated in Vista, located in San Diego County, court documents state. Prior to the plants’ shipment, Byungsu Kim scheduled an inspection with a county agriculture official at the Vista nursery and falsely told her the government-issued certificate necessary for the plants’ exportation should list 1,397 Dudleya plants (259 pounds) for export to South Korea and that the “place of origin” of the plants was San Diego County, the indictment alleges.
The defendants then transported the plants to a commercial exporter in Compton, to whom Byungsu Kim intended to present the fraudulently obtained certificate so the Dudleya plants could be shipped to South Korea, the indictment alleges. The defendants were arrested in Compton last year and currently face state criminal charges in Del Norte County Superior Court. Law enforcement seized approximately 3,715 Dudleya plants (664 pounds) in 34 boxes at the Compton location and the value of the seized plants in Korea would be approximately $602,950, court papers state. Two of the defendants, Byungsu Kim and Youngin Back, have since fled the United States.”
They could receive as much as 10 years in federal prison. While it is unlikely to result in such a maximum sentence, their conduct more than warrants such harsh punishment.