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Narcotics
05/18/2012

13 members of international khat trafficking ring convicted

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Thirteen individuals have been convicted for their roles in an international conspiracy, trafficking more than 10 million grams of khat throughout the United States.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with support from U.S. Postal Inspection Service, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as local law enforcement in Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and New York. This case was prosecuted as part of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force's "Operation Buried Treasure."

"This case exemplifies that those who attempt to smuggle controlled substances and other contraband into and out of our country will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted," said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of HSI Washington, D.C. "HSI thanks our domestic and international law enforcement partners for their significant cooperation in dismantling this smuggling and money laundering organization."

Indicted June 16, 2011, the following defendants were convicted May 17 of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute cathinone, a schedule I controlled substance found in khat: Suado Mohamed Ali, 45, of Burke, Va.; Hibo Musse Samantar, 34, of Annandale, Va.; Ahmed Ali Hassan, 31, of Alexandria, Va.; Osman Yusuf, 56, of Clifton, Va., Abdirahman Abshir Jibril, 45, of Fairfax, Va.; Harun Salhan, 47, of Wheaton, Md.; Ismail Mohamud Abdi, 50, of Alexandria, Va.; Abdi Muhumed, 43, of Parkville, Md.; Lutf Mohamed Albukhaiti, 36, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Nagi Mansor Sea Alashmali, 50, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Khaled Ahmed Isa, 36, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Abdi Omar Abdi, 56, of Columbus, Ohio; and Abokor Gurreh, 55, of Columbus, Ohio.

Nine of the defendants – Suado Mohamed Ali, Osman Yusuf, Abdirahman Abshir Jibril, Ismail Mohamud Abdi, Abdi Muhumed, Lutf Albukhaiti, Khaled Ahmed Isa, Abdi Omar Abdi and Abokor Gurreh – were convicted of conspiracy to launder the proceeds of khat sales to khat suppliers in the United Kingdom and Africa. Harun Salhan was acquitted on the money laundering conspiracy charge.

The defendants will be sentenced Aug. 10 and 17. Each faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

"This ring illegally imported millions of grams of fresh, potent khat into the United States and then laundered the khat proceeds to hide and promote their illegal activity," said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil H. MacBride. "These convictions should serve as a warning to others who knowingly bring illegal narcotics into the United States and distribute them for profit."

According to court records and evidence at trial, the defendants joined a conspiracy that smuggled khat into the United States from Europe, using human couriers, the U.S. Postal Service and delivery companies. The conspiracy would then distribute the khat throughout the eastern United States, including Ohio, New York and the Washington, D.C. metro area. The conspirators would transmit proceeds from their drug sales to others in England, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda through money-service businesses such as Dahabshiil, Inc. Osman Yusuf, a former branch manager at a Dahabshiil branch in Falls Church, Va., and Abdirahman Abshir Jibril, an employee at that Dahabshiil branch, assisted the leader of the khat trafficking conspiracy, Yonis Muhudin Ishak, in wiring his drug proceeds overseas.

"This verdict is the result of several law enforcement agencies pooling their resources and working together toward a common goal: to protect citizens from the perils of illegal and dangerous drugs," said Postal Inspector in Charge Daniel Cortez. "I would like to thank the inspectors, as well as the special agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection who worked tirelessly to achieve this verdict. I greatly appreciate their dedication of continuing to ensure the safety of the U.S. mail."

Fresh khat leaves contain the drug cathinone, an addictive stimulant with effects similar to, but less intense than that of methamphetamine or cocaine. Over time, the cathinone in khat leaves degrades, and the evidence at trial showed that the conspiracy placed priority on ensuring the khat smuggled into the United States was fresh. The conspiracy used human couriers, who were paid about $1,000 per trip to travel to England and return with khat smuggled in their passenger luggage. Couriers used rented vehicles to transport khat to and from airports, as well as to designated locations throughout the United States. They also used them to retrieve or ship khat to conspirators in other parts of the country. Additionally, members of the conspiracy would receive Express Mail packages containing khat from khat suppliers in the United Kingdom. The shipping labels on these packages falsely reflected their contents as "baby clothes," "picture frames" and other items.

Local law enforcement participation included Arlington County Police Department, Fairfax County Police Department and Alexandria Police Department in Virginia; Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority in Washington, D.C.; Columbus Police Department, Franklin County Sheriff's Department and Gahanna Police Department in Ohio; Baltimore County Police and Montgomery County Police in Maryland; and the New York City Police Department in New York.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary K. Daly and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael J. Frank, Elizabeth L.D. Cannon and Brian K. Fitzpatrick are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.