Tip Leads Feds to Baltimore's Port For Major Drug Bust
BALTIMORE -- A tip to police in Montgomery County led federal agents to the Port of Baltimore this week, ending in a major drug bust on the streets of Washington, D.C.
Federal authorities have four men in custody and thousands of pounds of an illegal drug that didn't make it to the streets, WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team reporter Barry Simms reported.
Authorities showcased the plastic bags filled with an illegal drug that is relatively unknown in the United States, called Khat. It arrived by ship this week through the Port of Baltimore, headed for distribution in D.C., Simms reported.
Federal agent Allen Doody said east Africans or people of Arabian decent use Khat.
"Khat is primarily a cultural drug," Doody said.
The plant looks like a flowering evergreen tree or large shrub. According to drug experts, the leaves contain psychoactive ingredients that produce feelings of euphoria, similar to those of cocaine, Simms reported.
Users feel alert, like they are liberated from space and time. Khat also suppresses hunger, and side effects can include increased heart rate, wild delusions and insomnia.
"It's chewed or used in tea. It acts like an amphetamine," Doody said.
Experts said Khat is usually packaged in plastic bags or banana leaves to retain its moistness, freshness and potency.
U.S. Immigration and Customs agents said the 2,500 pounds of Khat arrived in the United States through the Port of Baltimore from a container that arrived by ship, Simms said.
"The ship began its journey as a trip from Ethiopia to Yemen to France, then into the United States and the Port of Baltimore," Doody said.
Before making the bust, the federal agents made sure the shipment got to its final destination -- a self-storage facility in D.C. That's where the agents arrested four Ethiopian men who now face charges of drug smuggling and possession with intent to distribute.
The agents also confiscated $13,000 in cash. They said the investigation has taken two weeks so far.
"It will probably last quite some time as we trace the senders and other individuals who were due to receive the drugs," Doody said.
Federal agents said the drug had a street value of more than $5 million.