NEW YORK --An international drug ring flooded parts of New York, Massachusetts and Ohio with several tons of a narcotic known as khat that came from Yemen, Kenya and Ethiopia, authorities said Friday in announcing criminal charges against 17 defendants.
View Mug Shots of suspects:
The khat, a plant containing controlled substances similar to amphetamines, was shipped to the United States through the United Kingdom, China, Holland and Belgium, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton.
"Khat is a dangerous and illegal drug with worldwide reach," Schneiderman said in a statement. "Trafficking often funds other criminal activity. Traffickers who threaten our communities and inflict untold harm on countless families will be brought to justice."
The suspects were facing arraignment in a 215-count indictment that was unsealed in Brooklyn's state Supreme Court. The suspects lived in New York City and Rochester, New York; Everett, Massachusetts; and Blaine, Minnesota. One suspect was identified as a resident of England. Prosecutors say the ring laundered proceeds in Minnesota and wired the money to locations in Dubai and England.
The arrests follow a nearly year-long investigation, authorities said.
Khat is popular in parts of the Middle East and Africa, but it's classified as a dangerous narcotic in the United States. Users chew the leaf, producing a mild high. Prosecutors said that among its active ingredients are cathinone and cathine, which are classified as controlled substances.
Investigators said surveillance video showed some of those involved hiding large quantities of khat in various buildings. They would then put the khat in approximately 25-pound boxes for redistribution.