Dispatches shed light on Amalia compound investigation
As investigators continue to look into exactly what was going on at a makeshift compound in Northern New Mexico where the body of a missing toddler was found in early August, many details remain under wraps, but reports released by Taos Central Dispatch indicate the FBI had been discussing a “kidnapped child” as early as May.
“Request for assistance from local authorities of a (3-year-old) child,” a May 14 report reads, “have reason to believe he’s in Amalia. Have an address and would like a deputy to assist. This case is out of Atlanta, Georgia.”
“What sort of assistance is required?” a responding deputy asked.
“Assist with kidnapped child,” the dispatcher relayed.
The report indicates the request came from Special Agent Dennis Suta, who works for the FBI field office in Atlanta, Georgia, according to online records. The Taos County Sheriff’s Office took the call, marking the first interaction between the two agencies.
But the FBI wouldn’t be involved in the Aug. 3 raid of the compound, which resulted in the arrests of five adults, all charged with 11 counts of child abuse: Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40; his sisters, Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, and Hujrah Wahhaj, 37; his partner, Jany Leveille, 35, and Lucas Morton, 40.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said the FBI tracked Siraj Ibn Wahhaj after a warrant went out for his arrest in Georgia for allegedly abducting his 3-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj. On May 6, the boy’s remains were
found inside a tunnel dug at the base of the compound.
Federal agents had watched the compound using aerial surveillance for an unknown period of months but never moved in on the property due to a lack of evidence, Hogrefe said.
The federal agency, however, has not commented on its investigation.
The May 14 dispatch report indicates at least a strong suspicion existed that the missing boy was being held at the compound. It also suggested that the people living there may have been in danger, with other comments describing Siraj Ibn Wahhaj as a wanted individual who was potentially “armed and dangerous.” Another note warned officers to not broadcast chatter about the compound on the radio “as a precaution.”
The report also makes note of Morton, who owns a property near where the compound was illegally constructed on land belonging to Jason Badger, a resident who lives nearby.
Badger said he had submitted complaints earlier this year, but a public information request sent to Taos Central Dispatch this month did not produce reports related to the compound earlier than May.
What exactly happened as a result of the May 14 FBI request for agency assistance is unknown. Hogrefe could not comment as to the federal agency’s activity and referred questions to the FBI for comment.
Responding to an inquiry about evidence collected at the compound before it was demolished last week, FBI Public Affairs Specialist Frank Fisher said, “It would be inappropriate” for the agency to comment while cases connected to their investigation are still pending in court.
Despite the allegations the five adults had abused the children living at the compound, Henry Varela, communications director for the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department, said his office did not receive a complaint prior to the Aug. 3 raid.
On June 8, Jason Badger submitted a trespassing complaint against Lucas Morton.
Badger “advised he needs assistance removing a squatter, Lucas Allen Morton, from his field,” a dispatcher noted in the report.
But a response from the Taos County Sheriff’s Office stated that Badger had been advised to “get an eviction notice” before law enforcement would be able to move in.
The next report came on Aug. 3, the day members of the Taos County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico Office of Superintendent of Insurance suited up for the raid.
The final report is dated Aug. 13, when Tanya Badger called law enforcement, concerned that the defendants would return to the compound after Judge Sarah Backus granted their bail at a pretrial hearing earlier in the day.
Asked to comment on the reports this week, Hogrefe echoed his earlier statements, saying that there was no way his agency could have moved in on the property sooner than Aug. 3.
“Until Aug. 2, there was no fresh information that gave (probable cause) to enter or search,” he said. “That changed when we were made aware of the message received from Georgia.”
During the pretrial hearing Aug. 13, FBI Special Agent Travis Taylor confirmed the message had been submitted by one of the women at the compound via Facebook. She asked a relative for food, but insisted they keep her request secret.
A detective with the Clayton County Police Department intercepted the message and relayed it to Hogrefe, who said it changed the nature of the investigation.
Moving in sooner, he said, would have compromised any charges levied against the defendants, who were preparing the children to carry out armed attacks on government institutions they deemed at odds with their beliefs, according to the FBI.
“TCSO did this by the book,” Hogrefe said, “with lawful authority granted by a (search warrant) and with the best intentions.”