Dis­patches shed light on Amalia com­pound in­ves­ti­ga­tion

The Taos News - - FRONT PAGE - By John Miller jmiller@taos­news.com The Taos News

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.”

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