In­ves­ti­ga­tors re­cover stolen trailer from Amalia com­pound

The Taos News - - LOCAL NEWS - By John Miller jmiller@taos­news.com The Taos News

In­ves­ti­ga­tors ex­ca­vated and hauled away a stolen travel trailer from a com­pound in North­ern New Mex­ico last week where five adults were ar­rested, 11 chil­dren were taken into pro­tec­tive cus­tody and a miss­ing toddler was found dead in early Au­gust.

Spe­cial agents with the state Of­fice of Su­per­in­ten­dent of In­sur­ance in­volved in the Aug. 3 raid on the com­pound checked the ve­hi­cle iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber on the trailer dur­ing a sub­se­quent search of the prop­erty Aug. 6. They found the camper had been re­ported stolen out of Ma­con County, Alabama in Au­gust 2017.

Ac­cord­ing to FBI Spe­cial Agent Travis Tay­lor, two of the adults even­tu­ally ar­rested at the makeshift dwelling near the Colorado bor­der, Si­raj Ibn Wah­haj and his part­ner Jany Leveille, were in­volved in a sin­gle-ve­hi­cle car crash while trav­el­ing with 10 of the chil­dren in late 2017 in Chilton County, Alabama, ap­prox­i­mately 85 miles north­west of where the trailer was re­ported stolen.

Lu­cas Mor­ton, 40, an­other of the five adults ar­rested at the com­pound this month, ar­rived at the crash scene in a white box truck to pick them up, ac­cord­ing to Tay­lor.

Months later, law en­force­ment en­coun­tered Wah­haj, 40, and Leveille, 35, in­side the stolen trailer, half-buried in the New Mex­ico desert 1,300 miles away.

Taos County Sher­iff Jerry Ho­grefe, who or­ga­nized the raid us­ing a no-knock search war­rant, said the mo­ments lead­ing to Wah­haj’s ar­rest were tense.

An AR-15 ri­fle was found within reach­ing dis­tance of Wah­haj and a loaded pis­tol was found in his pocket. Sev­eral of the 11 chil­dren in­side the trailer were also al­legedly hold­ing am­mu­ni­tion. Other loaded firearms were found scat­tered around the prop­erty, but not a sin­gle shot was fired dur­ing the raid.

Mor­ton was ar­rested at the front of the com­pound. Wah­haj’s sis­ters, Sub­han­nah Wah­haj and Hu­jrah Wah­haj, and Leveille were taken into cus­tody. After they were in­ter­viewed at a women’s shel­ter in Taos, the three women were also ar­rested.

All five adults were charged with 11 counts of child abuse, but were granted bail at a pre­trial de­ten­tion hear­ing last week. The de­fen­dants were also charged with tres­pass­ing ear­lier this month for al­legedly build­ing their dwelling on prop­erty they did not own and had no agree­ment to lease. A charge filed against Mor­ton for aid­ing a fugi­tive was dis­missed in Taos Mag­is­trate Court this week, but court records did not pro­vide a rea­son for the dis­missal.

Si­raj Ibn Wah­haj is still be­ing held on an out­stand­ing ar­rest war­rant filed in Ge­or­gia last year for al­legedly ab­duct­ing his

3-year-old son, Ab­dul-Ghani Wah­haj. The boy’s re­mains were found buried at the com­pound on what would have been his fourth birth­day.

Jany Leveille, an un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant from Haiti, ac­cord­ing to law en­force­ment, was de­tained less than 24 hours after the judge ruled to grant the de­fen­dants bail.

In spite of the sus­pi­cious dis­cov­ery of the stolen trailer last week, law en­force­ment had not filed ad­di­tional charges against any of the five adults as of press time Wed­nes­day (Aug.

22).

The af­fi­davit for the camper’s re­moval called for the use of heavy equip­ment. Landowner Ja­son Badger said the op­er­a­tion mostly de­stroyed the com­pound where the adults and chil­dren were al­legedly liv­ing in squalor since early this year.

A “stop or­der” was is­sued Aug. 7 for the prop­erty where the com­pound was lo­cated, bear­ing the sig­na­ture of a Taos County build­ing of­fi­cial. The or­der cited “un­safe struc­tures, rub­bish, abandoned ma­te­ri­als” and “build­ing with­out a per­mit.”

Eighth Ju­di­cial District At­tor­ney Don­ald Gal­le­gos said that the three agen­cies in­volved in the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion – the sher­iff’s of­fice, the state in­sur­ance su­per­in­ten­dent’s of­fice and the FBI – re­cov­ered what ev­i­dence they needed be­fore the dwelling was de­stroyed.

Ho­grefe con­firmed that his of­fice had re­cov­ered ev­i­dence for its in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but of­fi­cials from OSI did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment as of press time. FBI Pub­lic Af­fairs Spe­cial­ist Frank Fisher in Al­bu­querque said the fed­eral agency would not pro­vide de­tails on its in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“It would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for us to com­ment at this time,” Fisher said. “The FBI is co­or­di­nat­ing as­sis­tance, as needed, with the Taos County Sher­iff’s Of­fice in (its) in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, Fisher said, would not be pro­vided while the five cases against the adults ar­rested at the com­pound con­tinue to move through the Taos County court sys­tem.

Since the dwelling was de­stroyed last week, Badger said he and his wife have taken time off from work to clean up the mess, one that sparked me­dia frenzy over the past two weeks and caused a ma­jor in­ter­rup­tion in their oth­er­wise quiet lives in the north­ern­most reaches of Taos County.

“There’s re­ally noth­ing to take pics of any more,” Badger said Fri­day (Aug. 17). “We’re start­ing to clean up now and have lit­tle time off work to get it done. We had to take va­ca­tion time to clean up.”

Jesse Moya

Bro­ken glass tops a mud and glass bot­tle wall un­der con­struc­tion at a re­mote com­pound near the Colorado bor­der where the re­mains of a miss­ing Ge­or­gia boy were found Mon­day (Aug. 6) and where 11 chil­dren were taken into pro­tec­tive cus­tody. Court doc­u­ments al­lege one of the chil­dren was trained to use a weapon for fu­ture school shoot­ings.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.