Exotic cactus snatched from Surfside home, cop nabs thief

SURFSIDE, FLA. (WSVN) - Call it a cactus caper. A Surfside homeowner is speaking out after, police said, a man chopped down and stole his prized exotic plant in the middle of the night.

Holding pictures of the swiped cactus, Surfside Police Detective Marian Cruz said she is still astonished about last week’s brazen theft. “Very gutsy, actually, to do something like this in the front lawn of someone’s house,” she said.

The photos show the prickly plant mounted on top of a red car. Cruz said a police officer noticed a man placing a large plant on top of the vehicle.

“She noticed that the subject was attaching a cactus plant to the roof of his vehicle,” said Cruz. “This is not something we see all the time.”

The plant, as it turned out, was an exotic cactus. “We assumed that he knew the value of this plant,” said Cruz. “It’s worth $500.”

Homeowner Shlomo Danzinger noticed the flashing lights before he even realized his plant was gone. “I open up and all the cops, the dogs barking, you know, [they tell me], ‘Somebody took a cactus,'” he said. “I thought they were joking. I thought it was funny.”

He soon discovered this was no laughing matter.

Police said the subject, later identified as 31-year-old Rafael Tinoco-Diaz, told the officer who spotted him that he was a landscaper. “[He said] he collects cactus plants, and that was his excuse,” said Cruz. “I say he just wanted some money.”

Tinoco-Diaz was arrested and charged with grand theft.

In bond court Thursday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Mindy S. Glazer appeared to do a double take when informed of the unusual theft.

“A little piece about this big sells for about $40,” said Danzinger as he showed 7News the large plant, now back in its original spot, feet away from his small daughter’s bedroom window.

“This is what’s concerning to me, is that there are children in the house,” said the homeowner as he held his daughter. “How do I know the next time he’s not going to see something through the window and decide he’s just going to go in and take it, or maybe think nobody’s here and decide to walk in?”

When her father asks her whether you’re supposed to take things without permission, the child replied, “No.”

“That’s right. You have to ask, right?” said Danzinger.

His daughter shrugged.

It’s a lesson Tinoco-Diaz appears to have learned the hard way. He left the cactus and his car behind, and instead wound up in a lot of heat — in jail.

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