An Ethiopian refugee has pleaded guilty to a charge that he and another man conspired to import more than 400 pounds of an exotic plant, knowing it was illegal in the United States.

Patrick Bahati appeared in U.S. District Court Thursday to enter a guilty plea to one count of conspiring to import a controlled substance into the United States. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison, but by accepting a plea deal with prosecutors, he could serve less time.

Federal prosecutors say Bahati was recruited to pick up shipments of a leafy plant called khat from a shipping company at the Salt Lake City International Airport. The plant had been arranged to be shipped by Sherif Kadir Sirage, who is also charged.

Khat is a flowering evergreen shrub that is chewed like tobacco in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It is considered a narcotic and is illegal in the United States as well as part of Europe, East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Prosecutors say khat is a neuro-stimulant similar to ephedra.

Bahati also admitted that he and Sirage planned to sell the khat to people in the Salt Lake area who come from the Ethiopian region. Bahati is in the United States as a refugee.

U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell said Bahati's plea could lead to his deportation by federal authorities. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 7. Sirage is scheduled to also accept a plea agreement during a hearing April 10.


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