Philadelphia - Customs and Border Protection officers fined two Minnesotans nearly $26,000 after officers discovered a combined 89 pounds of khat in their luggage at Philadelphia International Airport on Monday.
Khat is a plant native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and contains the alkaloid cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant. The World Health Organization classifies khat as a drug of abuse in 1980 and khat is classified as a controlled substance in the United States.
The two women arrived from London shortly before 4 p.m. One was referred for a secondary inspection after CBP agriculture detector canine Auburn alerted to the traveler's luggage.
After discovering 32 pounds of khat in her luggage, CBP officers summoned her traveling partner's luggage and discovered an additional 57 pounds of khat. In lieu of prosecution, CBP officers assessed penalties of $9,318 and $16,640, respectively. The penalties represent 10 times the approximate street value of $64 per kilogram.
The khat has an estimated street value of about $2,600.
"The $26,000 in penalties is a fairly significant consequence for a very serious narcotics smuggling attempt," said Allan Martocci, CBP area port director for the Port of Philadelphia. "We hope they learn from this experience."
Both travelers were released to make their connecting flights to Minneapolis.
CBP officers have made several seizures of khat recently, mostly through the express mail consignment facility near Philadelphia International Airport.
CBP officers there seized nearly 420 pounds in four parcels labeled as other products last week. Two of the four shipments were destined to Upper Darby, Penn.; the other two to Minnesota.
All of the khat will be destroyed.
CBP officers also assessed two travelers arriving from Montego Bay, Jamaica on Saturday a zero-tolerance penalty of $500 each after officers discovered marijuana in their possession. A CBP narcotics detector canine alerted to both passengers.