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Massive Succulent Theft Scheme Nets Man Two Years of Federal Time

8:45 AM PST on January 27, 2022

photo: John Rusk

Last August, we watched some jackass in a Prius pull over to the side of the street in Highland Park to jack a large succulent from the Los Angeles Police Museum. Today, we learned of a more sophisticated plot seeking to devoid our landscape of these thick gray-green beauties.

A South Korean national named Byungsu Kim has just been sentenced to two years of federal after getting busted in 2019 with more than $150,000 worth of succulents ripped out of Northern California’s state parks. He’ll also need to pay nearly $4,000 to pay for their replanting.

According to a California Justice Department breakdown,  Kim was caught with two co-conspirators, Youngin Back and Bong Jun Kim, fellow Korean nationals in their 40s. The trio landed at LAX in October 2018, and drove to NorCal to go on a tear, pulling dudleya plants from Klamath’s Demartin State Beach and Redwoods State Park, even though internet searches on his phone make it clear he knew this was illegal.

After leaving their booty at a Vista nursery, their crime spree continued in Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino, where they used walkie-talkies and backpacks to snatch even more dudleya, a valuable plant on South Korea’s black market.

After pulling some shenanigans with a county inspector back at the Vista nursery, the three drove the plants back to Compton with their fraudulent certificates. Before they could get them shipped, local police appeared and found the 3,715 succulents Kim and crew had pulled from the ground.

Kim had his passport taken, was arrested, and admitted to being the ringleader. Then he simply strolled on over to the South Korean consulate to get a new passport. Later he hightailed it on foot through the Tijuana-San Ysidro border before flying to China and right on back to South Korea.

And he would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids. Kim traveled next to South Africa, where he got busted again doing the same shit, illegally collecting plants from protected areas. Getting popped got him sent back to the States, where he has remained in federal custody since October 2020.

An investigation found the man had traveled to the U.S. 50 times in about 10 years, always on succulent-related business, according to his customs records. His conspirator, Bong Jun Kim, copped a plea and served four months. Back is still on the loose.

All this for a plant. A plant we aim to keep firmly grounded in our earth around here. No matter how tempting the thought of fresh aguamiel might be while looking at some of those giant agaves fronting Beverly Hills’ posher mansions.

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