Amalia compound suspects face federal firearms, conspiracy charges

September 1, 2018 GMT

TAOS — An FBI investigation into a remote Taos County compound has led to federal firearms and conspiracy charges against five people arrested at the site earlier this month, the U.S. Justice Department announced in a news release Friday.

A criminal complaint charges 35-year-old Jany Leveille, a Haitian immigrant living in the U.S. without authorization, of being “unlawfully in possession of firearms and ammunition in the District of New Mexico from Nov. 2017 through Aug. 2018,” says the news release from Justice Department spokeswoman Elizabeth M. Martinez.

The other four suspects are accused of aiding and abetting Leveille.

The five suspects, who initially were accused of keeping 11 children in filthy conditions at the makeshift dwelling near the Colorado border, each saw 11 counts of child abuse dropped this week in the state District Court in Taos, with judges blasting prosecutors’ failure to meet a critical court deadline to hold hearings in the high-profile case.

Three of the suspects — Lucas Allen Morton, 40, and sisters Hujrah Wahhaj, 37, and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35 — were released Wednesday from the Taos County jail after dismissal of the state charges. Leveille and her husband, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, remained held on additional felony counts related to the death of Siraj Wahhaj’s son, whose remains were found buried on the property. Though, the district attorney dismissed those charges Friday, saying he needed more time to prepare a case before holding a preliminary hearing.

Morton and the Wahhaj sisters were rebooked on the federal charges Friday, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said.

According to a Taos resident who asked to remain anonymous, at least two of the suspects were taken back into custody at the local office of the state Motor Vehicle Division early afternoon Friday.

Joe Shattuck, an Arizona-based criminal defense attorney who has practices in New Mexico, described the firearms possession and conspiracy charges as “low hanging fruit” that keeps all five defendants behind bars. “The feds are looking to get their thumbs into the pie — they may want to get deeper into the case later,” Shattuck, who is not involved in the case, told the Associated Press.

In federal court filings on Friday, the AP reported, the FBI said handguns, rifles and a shotgun found at the compound were purchased by Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj, while one rifle had no purchaser information.

Some firearms were transported in a vehicle registered to Leveille during a portion of the family’s journey from Georgia to New Mexico in late 2017, and guns were later stored under Leveille’s bed. An unnamed child at the compound saw Leveille train with a gun once and fire it, the FBI said.

Kelly Golightley, a defense attorney for Leveille, said she was unfamiliar with the new charges and could not immediately comment. “I need to investigate my cases more thoroughly to determine if charges were properly filed,” she said.

Just hours before the federal charges were announced, the district attorney in Taos said his office had dropped felony charges against Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Leveille of conspiracy and child abuse resulting in the death of 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj.

Investigators had said the pair denied the child medication and that the boy likely died during an Islamic prayer ritual Dec. 24.

District Attorney Donald Gallegos said he had dropped the charges without prejudice because his office would not be able to prepare for a preliminary hearing within the required 10 days — the reason the initial child neglect charges were dismissed.

He said he intends to the take the felony counts to a grand jury set to convene in late September.

Gallegos’ announcement came just a day after he said he was planning to refile the child neglect charges against all five suspects.

The case began earlier this year when the FBI started investigating the compound in an effort to track the whereabouts of the boy, who was reported missing in early December.

According to dispatch records, the FBI asked the Taos County Sheriff’s Office to assist with its investigation.

The FBI never entered the property, however.

On Aug. 3, the sheriff’s office raided the site after receiving a notice that Georgia authorities had intercepted a message indicating the compound’s residents were in a dire situation, with no food or water. Following the raid, deputies took 11 children into protective custody and arrested the five adults.

But deputies didn’t initially find Abul-Ghani. The child’s remains were found in a tunnel at the compound three days later.

Prosecutors have since alleged they found evidence the adults were training some of the children to carry out shootings, and that the group was planning to attack an Atlanta hospital. No charges have been filed in relation to these allegations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

A version of this story first appeared on the website of the Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.