Investigators recover stolen trailer from Amalia compound
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.
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.”
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.