News and Press Releases

Leader of International Khat-Trafficking Ring Pleads Guilty

September 29, 2011

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Yonis Muhudin Ishak, 44, an immigrant from Somalia, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to distribute cathinone.

            Neil H. MacBride, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and John P. Torres, Special Agent in Charge for ICE’s, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Washington, D.C., made the announcement after the plea was accepted by United States District Judge T.S. Ellis, III.

            Ishak and others were indicted on June 16, 2011. Ishak faces a maximum penalty of 20 years of imprisonment when he is sentenced on Jan. 20, 2012.

            In a statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, Ishak, who was based in Arlington, Va., admitted that he imported khat from England and the Netherlands and then distributed wholesale quantities of khat to various domestic khat distributors in Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere.  

            Khat, (Catha edulis) is a flowering shrub native to East Africa and the Arabian-Peninsula.  Fresh khat leaves contain the drug cathinone, which is a stimulant, the effects of which have been compared to methamphetamine.

            Ishak hired human couriers to travel to London and elsewhere to retrieve khat from overseas sources of supply, and to smuggle khat into the United States inside their luggage.  In addition, Ishak arranged for the shipment of khat into the United States via the U.S. Postal Service, DHL, FedEx and United Parcel Service.  To conceal his activities from law enforcement, the defendant would have these parcels shipped to addresses that were not associated with him, including UPS stores in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere.  Money was sent to khat suppliers using hawala money transfer companies.    

            This case was investigated by ICE-HSI.  Assistant United States Attorney Mary K. Daly and Special Assistant United States Attorneys Michael J. Frank, Claire M. Murray and Andrew K. Mann are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia at  Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia at or on




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