Dozens Indicted in Massive Drug Ring

ByABC News
July 26, 2006, 10:23 AM

July 26, 2006 — -- A series of overnight raids in eight states capped a 2½-year investigation into a drug ring that controlled the sale of a dangerous drug called Khat.

The use of Khat, whose sale has ties to terrorists, has had devastating effects in East African immigrant communities.

Khat is a leafy vegetable resembling lettuce, but it has the stimulant effect of a methamphetamine. A money trail from its sale leads back to terror strongholds in Yemen, Somalia and Kenya.

ABC News' chief law and justice correspondent Chris Cuomo spent eight weeks with a handpicked team of New York Police Department officers, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Customs and IRS agents and state police officers as they seized shipments, entered money exchanges, conducted surveillance, and finally indicted 44 individuals.

Cuomo will tell the inside story of the investigation on "Nightline" at 11:35 ET tonight.

FBI officials noted that while no one had been charged with a terror offense, the task force was "eager" to embark on a second phase of the investigation -- "tracking the illicit proceeds."

"Nightline" has learned that an investigation into several terror lords appears to clearly link them to the drug ring, which has sold 25 tons of Khat and sent tens of millions of dollars to East Africa through the informal "Hawala" banking system and commercial banks in the Middle East.

Law enforcement and counterterrorism experts in at least four countries have been working on the investigation.

Chris Giovino, the special agent in charge of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, said to ABC News that his concern was that Khat, which can appear innocuous, would spread to a broader market of U.S. youths seduced into chewing Khat by its organic nature.

"Of course we are concerned about following the money," Giovino said, "but right now a key concern is stopping the spread of this drug."