Authorities have warned about the threat of dudleya poaching to the plant’s California population. Photo credit. Ashley McConnell, fws.gov

A South Korean national who was extradited to face federal charges was sentenced Thursday to 24 months behind bars.

Byungsu Kim, working through a Vista nursery, tried to illegally export thousands of lotus-like California succulents – worth more than $600,000 – that he and two others pulled from the ground at remote California state parks.

He also was ordered to pay $3,985 in restitution to the state, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Kim, 46, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court last year to a charge of attempting to export plants taken in violation of state law.

The defendant admitted he knew that taking Dudleya plants was unlawful and that he had conducted internet searches on his smartphone for “poaching succulents” and “dudleya,” and had read a press release regarding the arrest and convictions of three other poachers, according to his plea agreement.

On Oct. 11, 2018, the accomplices drove from Los Angeles International Airport to Crescent City. For three days, they harvested a number of the Dudleya plants from DeMartin State Beach in Klamath and from Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.

Eleven days later, Kim and his co-defendants traveled from Northern California to a nursery in Vista to unload the plants. On Oct. 23, the men traveled to Russian Gulch State Park in Mendocino County, where, wearing backpacks and using hand-held radios, they poached more Dudleya plants before returning once again Vista.

Prior to the plants’ shipment, Kim scheduled an inspection with a county agriculture official at the Vista nursery and falsely told her the government-issued certificate necessary to export the plants should list 1,397 Dudleya plants bound for South Korea. The “place of origin,” he stated, was San Diego County.

The defendants then transported the plants to a commercial exporter in Compton, to whom Kim intended to present the fraudulently obtained certificate so the plants could be smuggled to South Korea. When the defendants left, local law enforcement executed a search warrant at the cargo shipper and found more than 3,000 Dudleya plants in boxes labeled “Rush” and “Live Plants.”

Kim admitted that at the time he and his accomplices engaged in the illegal conduct, they did not have a scientific permit nor a federal permit that would allow them to harvest the plants. He also admitted to arranging the scheme.

Although California law enforcement officials had confiscated Kim’s passport following his arrest on state charges, Kim fraudulently obtained a new passport in January 2019 by falsely claiming at the South Korean Consulate in Los Angeles that he had lost his passport.

In May 2019, soon after Kim learned of the federal criminal charges pending against him in this case, he and co-defendant Youngin Back fled to Mexico through the San Ysidro border crossing.

Using his fraudulently obtained passport, Kim flew with Back from Mexico to China, and then from China to South Korea.

Kim was arrested in South Africa in October 2019 for charges related to a similar scheme. He pleaded guilty to the criminal charges there and was extradited to the U.S. in October 2020.

Co-defendant Bong Jun Kim pleaded guilty in July 2019 to one count of attempting to export plants taken in violation of state law. He served four months in federal custody and was released in October 2019 after a sentence of time served.

Back remains a fugitive, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

– City News Service

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