Two South Korean men involved in a black-market scheme to uproot native succulent plants from Mendocino Coast cliffs to ship to clients in Asia were handed this week two-year prison terms, a sentence they’ll avoid serving by agreeing to leave the country, prosecutors said.
Minguk Cho, 27, and Hyeongjae Kim, 39, were convicted of felony grand theft after taking about 700 pounds of Dudleya farinosa, a low- lying geometric succulent found in rock crevices just above the waterline, the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office said. In a plea agreement reached with prosecutors, Cho and Kim paid $20,000 to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for habitat restoration.
This year, state wildlife wardens have intercepted at least three shipments of the plants taken by poachers from the Mendocino and Humboldt coastlines. The District Attorney’s Office reported the plants can be sold to overseas collectors for upwards of $50 each.
The investigations started in January with a tip from a post office customer that led officers to intercept a shipment of about 50 succulents headed for China.
Cho and Kim were detained March 6 on the Mendocino Coast between Point Arena and Anchor Bay by state wildlife wardens, who found they had 30 moving boxes filled with about 1,400 rosettes, officials said.
Wardens intercepted a third haul April 4 in Humboldt County — 1,334 succulents in boxes to be shipped overseas, and another 1,000 Dudleya in a hotel room, according to Fish and Wildlife officials. Investigators estimated the poached plants were worth at least $90,000 overseas.
On Wednesday, Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman gave Cho and Kim a suspended prison sentence that allows them to be placed an probation and leave the country, which they were ordered to do within 48 hours.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or email@example.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.