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HSI assists in takedown of worldwide khat trafficking ring

NEW YORK — 17 members of a khat distribution ring were arrested June 27. The arrests stem from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the New York City Police Department (NYPD), the New York State Police and the New York State Attorney General's Office.

The criminal drug ring allegedly flooded New York City, as well as other parts of New York State and parts of Massachusetts and Ohio, with several tons of khat, a plant containing controlled substances similar to amphetamines.

The 215-count indictment unsealed in Brooklyn Supreme Court charges that the defendants obtained khat from Yemen, Kenya and Ethiopia; shipped it to the U.S. through countries including the United Kingdom, China, Holland and Belgium; and trafficked it around New York City and several other New York counties, as well as Massachusetts and Ohio. The ring then laundered the proceeds through operations in Minnesota and wired the money to various locations abroad, including Dubai and England.

"ICE Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Customs and Border Protection dedicate significant resources to identify vulnerabilities in trade and travel systems like those exploited by the criminal syndicate dismantled today," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "HSI is committed to leveraging partnerships across all levels of law enforcement to preserve America's national security."

"Khat is a dangerous and illegal drug with worldwide reach. As a result of this international takedown, a sophisticated operation accused of bringing drugs into the United States and sending the profits overseas has been shut down," said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. "Trafficking often funds other criminal activity. Traffickers who threaten our communities and inflict untold harm on countless families will be brought to justice."

"Illegal drugs can find their way into our city from any corner of the world via organized criminal networks," said NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton. "Through the far-reaching capabilities of our joint law enforcement partners these criminals can be tracked down and brought to justice wherever they are located, as evidenced in today's indictments by the New York State Attorney General's office."

"We are proud to have partnered with the New York State Attorney General's Office in bringing to justice those involved in this criminal organization," said CBP Director Robert E. Perez, New York Field Operations. "CBP remains ever vigilant at our ports of entry to ensure the security and safety of our nation."

Khat is a plant cultivated largely in Kenya and Ethiopia. Among its active ingredients are cathinone, a stimulant classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under the New York State Public Health Law, and cathine, which is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance. Users of khat chew the leaves and stems of the plant and swallow the juice, which is most potent when it is fresh. Khat traffickers, therefore, must operate efficiently to transport khat from Africa, where it is cultivated, to users in the U.S. and elsewhere.

As part of the investigation, state and local law enforcement agents led by the New York State Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) and the NYPD's Intelligence Division conducted a nearly year-long investigation. The indictment alleges that England-based defendant Yadeta Bekri, known to his co-conspirators as "Murad," systematically shipped large quantities of khat to his U.S.-based managers, Bayan Yusuf and Ahmed Adem, through multiple U.P.S. stores located in Manhattan. Yusuf and Adem, both of Rochester, would then allegedly deliver the khat to their distributors and direct customers based in Brooklyn, Rochester and Buffalo, as well as Everett, Massachusetts.

Surveillance conducted as part of the investigation revealed that, in each city, the defendants would use various buildings to store large quantities of khat until they were able to distribute the drugs. For example, two of the defendants, Mustafa Sadeq Ali and Sadeq Hassan Ali, were observed on several occasions via electronic surveillance bringing multiple boxes of khat (containing approximately 25 pounds per box) into the Islamic Society of Flatbush on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, which was adjacent to the apartment they shared. Defendants were also repeatedly observed at storage rental facilities in both Brooklyn and Queens.

At Bekri's direction, Yusuf and Adem allegedly transported the proceeds of these illegal sales by car to Bekri's fiancée and co-conspirator Ibsitu Hashi, in Minnesota who, in turn, sent the money back to Bekri via Dubai and other countries.

The indictment charges 17 co-conspirators with crimes including Operating as a Major Trafficker and various counts of Criminal Sale and Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, Money Laundering and Conspiracy to commit those crimes. The Operating as a Major Trafficker statute (§220.77(1) of the Penal Law of the State of New York), authored by Attorney General Schneiderman, went into effect in November 2009 as part of changes to the Rockefeller-era drug laws and is the only felony narcotics charge in the state that carries a possible life sentence.

Arrested in the operation were:

  • Yadeta Bekri, aka Murad, 23, of England
  • Mustafa Sadeq Ali, 21, of Brooklyn
  • Sadeq Hassan Ali, 46, of Brooklyn
  • Noman Saleh Almoflehi, 21, of Brooklyn
  • Ahmed Khader Sulaiman, 25, of Brooklyn
  • Al Khader Sulaiman, 29, of Brooklyn
  • Wail Seidi, 21, of Queens
  • Nabil Seidi, 35, of Queens
  • Mohamed Seidi, 26, of Queens
  • Abubaker Seidi, 39, of Queens
  • Ali Saleh, 39, of Rochester
  • Mohamed Mohamed, 54, of Rochester
  • Bayan Yusuf, 31, of Rochester
  • Rumiya Osman, 30, of Rochester
  • Ahmed Adem, 31, of Rochester
  • Malyun Ibrahim, 49, of Everett, Massachusetts
  • Ibsitu Hashi, 34, of Blaine, Minnesota

The investigation was directed by OCTF Investigator Brian Fleming and Supervising Investigator Arthur Schwartz, OCTF Deputy Chief Christopher Vasta and Investigations Bureau Chief Dominick Zarrella in the Attorney General's office, and by NYPD Detective Milton Lopez, Sergeant Scott Mackay and Lieutenant Joseph Sullivan of the Intelligence Division and Deputy Inspector Paul Mauro. The case is being prosecuted by OCTF Deputy Bureau Chief Tarek Rahman, with the assistance of OCTF Analyst Nicole Accurso and Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice is Kelly Donovan.