Friday, December 21, 2007
Diversity Watch: Ethiopian Refugees In Utah Show Gratitude For America's Hospitality By Importing 431 Pounds Of Khat
Ah, it sure is touching how grateful many foreign refugees in America are for Lady Liberty opening her doors to them. Only some show their gratitude in most unusual - and unseemly ways.
Two Utah resident refugees have been charged with trying to import 431 pounds of an exotic stimulant into the state from Ethiopia. Patrick Bahati, 23; and Sherif Kadir Sirage, 42, both of Salt Lake City, were arrested and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on Thursday December 20th. According to federal charges filed in U.S. District Court, both men were caught importing 431 pounds of a leafy plant called khat, which is considered a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law and banned not only in the United States but also in much of Europe, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Full stories published December 21st, 2007 in the Deseret Morning News and in the Salt Lake Tribune.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, khat is a flowering evergreen shrub native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Typically people chew fresh leaves, twigs and shoots like tobacco, keeping it in the cheek to release drug compounds. Some have described the drug's effects as having a feeling of euphoria, but drug enforcement experts said it is highly addictive.
Federal agents were called to a Salt Lake air shipping company on December 13th when the contents of a 220-pound shipment listed as "False Banana Flour, Basil, Pepper, Hop, Grounded Pea, Lipia and Thyme" did not match that description. Instead, agents found a green leafy substance that one company worker reported "stunk like spices."
The four boxes had been shipped to the United States via Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A shipping company worker reported that, two days before, two men came to get clearance for the shipment, stating the shipment was food for personal use. The person receiving the shipment was listed as "Patrick Dahgi." Agents contacted Bahati, who told them "Dahgi" was the Arabic spelling of his name and confirmed that he was the person who ordered the shipment.
According to a flight database, Sirage arrived back in Salt Lake City after traveling to the United Arab Emirates on December 7th. A man identified as a taxi driver who was Bahati's roommate told agents he had received a long-distance call from Sirage, who wanted to arrange a shipment of "food from Africa" and needed a U.S. point of contact.
Police located and questioned both men. Bahati claimed Sirage was responsible for importing the khat and that he was only a "middleman." He also said Sirage told him that he would be paid for retrieving the shipment once "they were sold."
On December 14th, another shipment arrived at the same company, again from Addis Ababa for "Patrick Dahgi." That shipment weighed in at 210 pounds. By December 18th, lab results came back confirming the leaves as khat.
John Glaittli, port director at Salt Lake International Airport for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said it's unusual to find that much khat being smuggled into Salt Lake City. "It's the largest amount of any controlled substance seized by customs (in Utah)," he said. Officers said legitimate spices were also found inside the boxes but mixed among packages of what appeared to be khat.
Bahati and Sirage have been charged with one count of importing a controlled substance. The charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Both men made their first appearance in federal court on Thursday. Both men are being held in jail on a federal hold with no bail.
Afterthought: I trust that if these people are convicted, one of the penalties would be revocation of refugee status and subsequent deportation - after, of course, experiencing a bit more of America's "hospitality" at a greybar hotel.