Pleading guilty to the charge of attempted operating as a major trafficker were Rochester residents Bayan Yusuf and Ahmed Adem, both 32.
Yusuf and Adem were identified by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office as two of the three ringleaders in the scheme, which operated out of a public storage facility in the city, as well as storage facilities in Queens and Brooklyn.
They will be sentenced to two years in state prison. Also pleading guilty was Yadeta Berki, 24, of the United Kingdom, who set up the trafficking ring. Operating from Britain, China, Holland and Belgium, Berki used UPS to ship several tons of the plant to Yusuf and Adem since the ring began operating in October 2013. He will be sentenced to three years in state prison and will forfeit $150,000.
Khat is generally grown in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, where it is legal. The plant's leaves and stems are chewed for a high.
"Many of the apparent users in the U.S. are people who have immigrated from places where it is common," said Nick Benson, deputy press secretary in Schneiderman's office.
Khat's active ingredients include the amphetamine-like stimulants cathinone and cathine, both controlled substances in the U.S. since 1993. In a press release announcing the three plea agreements Thursday, Schneiderman said, "Khat is a dangerous and illegal drug."
Not everyone agrees. The World Health Organization does not consider khat to be a seriously addictive drug, rating its psychological dependence as less than that found in tobacco or alcohol. Khat was made illegal in Great Britain in 2013, but only over protests by some British government officials that the drug presents no medical or social danger.
This is the first time that khat dealers have been sentenced in New York state. The three men were among 17 indicted last summer and charged with trafficking, criminal sale, criminal possession of a controlled substance, money laundering and conspiracy. The remaining 14 have been charged but have not yet gone to trial. They are mostly from Brooklyn and Queens, but three of the accused are from Rochester: Ali Saleh, 40; Mohamed Mohamed, 43; and Rumiya Osman, 31.
The arrests were the result of a nearly year-long investigation by state and local law enforcement, Schneiderman's organized crime task force and the New York Police Department's intelligence division. According to the 88-page, 215-count indictment, the authorities' investigation included video surveillance and intercepted telephone calls and text messages in which the defendants spoke in "coded, guarded and cryptic telephone conversations."
The indictment, filed June 20, 2014, alleged that the khat trafficking ring netted hundreds of thousands of dollars since it first opened for business. Yusuf and Adem picked up the packages from Bekri, also known as "Murad," and sold the khat to customers and dealers in Brooklyn, Rochester and Buffalo, as well as in Ohio and Everett, Mass. The indictment says one transaction occurred in the parking lot of an unidentified Walmart in Monroe County.
Yusuf and Adem would then then drive to Minnesota and deliver the cash — as much as $143,000 in one instance — to Bekri's fiancée in Minnesota, Ibsitu Hashi. According to prosecutors, she then wired money back through Dubai to Bekri in England.