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The tip came from a woman standing in line at a post office in a small town in northern California.
A customer was shipping dozens of boxes to China, and the caller suspected they were filled with abalone, a highly-prized shellfish listed as an endangered species.
Officers - Call - Smuggling - Ring - Bluffs
But fish and wildlife officers who responded to the call instead uncovered an international smuggling ring that has been stripping the bluffs along the northern California coastline of Dudleya succulent plants and shipping them to countries in Asia where they are used for decoration.
"The poachers literally fly into the US just to get these plants so they can ship them to Korea, China or Japan," said Captain Patrick Foy, of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "They are ripping them out of the ground and selling them between $40 and $50 dollars a piece."
Plant - Circles - Artichoke - Dudleya - Farinosa
The plant, which grows in bud-like circles and resembles an artichoke, is called Dudleya farinosa and is native to the rugged coastlines of Oregon and northern California.
Foy said several suspects from Asia have been arrested in recent months in connection with the heists, including two Koreans and one Chinese national who were nabbed on April 4.
Trio - Country - Tourists - Plants - Dudleya
The trio had entered the country as tourists and were detained as they were about to ship 1,334 of the plants overseas. An additional 1,000 Dudleya were later found in their hotel room.
'They favor remote locations'
Men—Tae - Hun - Kim - Tae - Hyun
The three men—Tae Hun Kim, 52, and Tae Hyun Kim, 46, both of North Korea, and Liu Fengxia, 37, of China—are scheduled to appear in a California court on May 16, charged with several felony and misdemeanor counts. If convicted, they face up to nine years in prison and...
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