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Brooklyn Park man charged with stealing rare Bonsai trees

Investigators say the man stole rare Bonsai trees worth tens of thousands of dollars and one was believed to be more than 250 years old.
Credit: Hopkins PD

MINNEAPOLIS — A Brooklyn Park man is accused of stealing rare and expensive Bonsai trees from Hopkins and St. Paul in multiple incidents over the last year, authorities said Friday,

Phong Yang, 36, is charged with felony counts of theft, damage to property, possessing a firearm, possession of burglary tools, and fifth-degree possession of marijuana. Another criminal complaint accuses him of catalytic converter theft.

Investigators say Yang stole rare and unusual Bonsai trees worth tens of thousands of dollars. One of them was believed to be more than 250 years old and valued at $14,000.

Bonsai is an ancient art form that’s been practiced in Japan since the 6th Century. It typically features trees or shrubs grown in small containers. Growers spend hours cutting, wiring, and fertilizing the plants to create a unique living display.

Credit: Hopkins PD
Bonsai trees are worth thousands of dollars, and have become quite popular with clubs and collectors.

St. Louis Park police and other assisting agencies were able to locate the suspect after the owner of the trees placed a GPS tracker on one of them.

Nicholas Ehlers, the director of outreach for the Minnesota Bonsai Society, has said that while a new plant from a nursery could cost between $10 to $50, an exhibit quality tree could cost hundreds or thousands.

“Even if it isn’t show quality, you still have to put hours of work into watering and maintaining the trees to get them to that point, which can take years,” he said.

Police say none of the trees have been recovered and the Hopkins residents are offering a $3,000 reward for their return.

Court documents do not list an attorney for Yang.

MORE: Bonsai tree thefts have Hopkins police on the lookout

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