Feds Uncover Sophisticated Drug Smuggling Ring

Drug Travels From Africa To Indianapolis In 48 Hours

A long term investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Indiana has uncovered a sophisticated drug smuggling ring that led to the arrests of 13 people on drug trafficking charges.

Most residents of Indianapolis, including many in the law enforcement community, have never heard of the drug called khat, 6News' Jack Rinehart reported.

However, over the past three years, hundreds of pounds of the drug have been sold on the streets of Indianapolis, mostly to people of African descent.

Khat is a plant that grows plentifully in east Africa, specifically in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Users chew the leaves of the plant to release a compound called cathinone, which is considered a "schedule 1" amphetamine and hallucinogen under U.S. law.

"It depends on how much you chew," said Dr. Dan Rusyniak, an ER physician and medical toxicologist at Wishard Hospital. "In lower doses, your heart rate is going to increase, your senses will become more aware. Longterm use can result in higher blood pressure which can lead to strokes and heart attacks."

Almost three years ago, a postal inspector at the Indianapolis downtown post office unwittingly intercepted a package of khat and had the substance tested.

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney opened an investigation that resulted in the indictments of 13 people on drug trafficking charges.

Between Jan. 2009 and July 2010, a suspect identified as Hussein Ahmed tried to possess 128 kilograms of khat valued at more than $120,000.

Investigators said traffickers used cell phones and sophisticated code to smuggle the drug from Africa to the United Kingdom, then to the United States and finally Indianapolis.

The smugglers used UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal system to move shipments of khat into Indianapolis, investigators said.

Locally, investigators said the traffickers smuggled the drugs between the UPS stores in Broad Ripple and on Crawfordsville Road, as well as homes in Lawrence and on the south side of Indianapolis.

The FBI said the sophistication of the smugglers was underscored by the drug's short shelf life. From the time khat is harvested to the time it is distributed on the streets of Indianapolis, it must get in the hands of users within 48 hours before it begins to lose potency.

Joe Hogsett, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, said the indictments of the 13 Somalis effectively shuts down the smuggling operation.

"Over the long term, Khat has been known to have very significant health impacts for those who use it," said Hogsett. "As a result, that makes it even more important to eliminate it from the Indianapolis community."