A trio of Asian men could spend nine years behind bars for allegedly stealing thousands of succulent plants in California and shipping them to Asia.
The men were identified as Tae Hun Kim, 52, Tae Hyun Kim, 46, both coming from North Korea, and Liu Fengxia, 37, who hails from China.
The news came to light after a tipster alerted wildlife officers about dozens of boxes being shipped to China from a post office in northern California.
Authorities responded and learned that the men were stripping the coastline of Dudleya succulent plants, which happen to be native in California and are used as ornaments.
Patrick Foy, captain of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that the men entered the U.S. as tourists only to ship the plants back home.
“The poachers literally fly into the US just to get these plants so they can ship them to Korea, China or Japan. They are ripping them out of the ground and selling them between $40 and $50 dollars a piece,” Foy told AFP.
He added, “They go in at night or during the day… and seem to favor locations that are not well traveled — places where you can park your car and walk half a mile and not be seen by a lot of people. These are people who are taking every plant that they can find and they are shipping them by the hundreds of boxes at a time.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time similar smugglers have been caught in California. In March, two men were caught with hundreds of succulents in a van, and just last month, three more were nabbed.
“Right now these plants are a boom in Korea, China and Japan. It’s huge among domestic housewives. It’s a status thing,” The Guardian quoted Pat Freeling, Fish and Wildlife warden, as saying. “It’s become an exotic lotus flower succulent. Someone likened it to the next Pokémon.”
The most recent suspects were about to ship 1,334 of the plants when authorities apprehended them. They will go to court on May 16.