Bonsai Bandit Escapes Florida Exhibition With Priceless Mini-Forest (VIDEO)
If a 6-foot man steals a three-foot forest, and nobody sees it, is it still a crime?
Indeed, it is.
Florida investigators are on the hunt for a "Bonsai Bandit," who they say nabbed a three-foot-wide Brazilian rain forest installation on Sunday just as a weekend exhibition hosted by the Bonsai Society of Southwest Florida was wrapping up.
"This fellow picks up a large, nine-tree forest that was in the doorway and just carries it out as if it was his," society president Greg Lignelli told The Huffington Post. "He blended into the crowd and when the real owner went to get the tree, it was gone."
Police estimate the display's value at approximately $5,000, but Lignelli says you really can't put a price on such a work of art.
"Nobody knows what it's worth," Lignelli explains. "That tree is like a painting, it's only worth what someone is willing to pay for it on the open market."
A police report described the suspect as a white male, approximately 6-feet-tall with a heavy build, and said the he drove away in either a white jeep or silver car.
While Lineglli admits that he and the rest of the society were "caught with our pants down," he explained that thieves like the "Bonsai Bandit" are like "trained pickpockets." They know just when to strike.
"This guy is probably a practiced bonsai thief because he knew exactly when to come get it," Lignelli said.
Lignelli suspects the "Bonsai Bandit" fled to another part of the state, where he can sell the stolen item to a private collector.
This is the first year that the 85-member Florida bonsai club, founded in 1973, held its annual gathering at the Lee County Election Center, drawing in more than 850 visitors over the weekend, according to the Fort Myers News-Press.
Like the 1911 theft of Leonardo da Vinci's the "Mona Lisa" or Pablo Picasso's still-missing "Le pigeon aux petits pois," Lignelli says the stolen bonsai inflicts more than an economic cost to the rightful gardner -- its loss comes at the expense of a community.
"People like this don't just take from the bonsai's owner," Lignelli explains. "They take from all the people who enjoy it."
WATCH: "Bonsai Bandit" caught on tape: