On August 30, Federal Prosecutors in Albuquerque filed charges against Jany Leveille and her husband Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and his sisters Hujrah and Subhanah Wahhaj and Subhanna’s husband Lucas Morton. These charges all hang from one undisputed fact, Jany Leveille, who came to America from Haiti 20 years ago at the age of 15 is an undocumented alien. This makes the firearms and ammunition found when she and the group were raided by Taos County Sheriff’s Deputies on August 3 potentially very illegal. The Wahhaj siblings and Morton are all charged with conspiring to provide the weapons to Leveille, and, again mostly due to her immigration status, all could draw long terms in Federal prison.
But these charges are place-holders, just reasons enough to keep the 5 defendants locked up.
The month between the Sheriff’s raid and Feds’ official arraignment of the suspects created more than enough material for a screwball comedy of local law enforcement at wit’s end, but actually, that’s the least interesting part of the story.
Which begins, … Federal motions say, back in November of last year when Leveille and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj started planning the relocation of a kind of Islamic mini-cult – 5 adults and 12 children — to Northern New Mexico.
Part of the plan allegedly involved absconding with Siraj’s 3-year-old son Abdul-Ghani. By early December, the boy’s mother had reported him missing, and almost certainly taken by his father. And, she told police, Abdul Ghani suffered from seizures which could kill him if he went off his meds.
There was an FBI bulletin flagging the kidnapping, but the very sick child didn’t seem to be much of a priority. By mid-December, the group was squatting on land north of Taos, close to the Colorado State Line, and not long after that, little Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj was dead, from seizures for which he was being denied medication in favor of exorcisms to rid him of demons.
But the FBI didn’t know that. Exactly when they had tracked the group to Taos County isn’t clear, but when Federal agents told County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe about them, his impression was, they’d been surveilling for weeks, maybe months. Hogrefe says he was told that the alleged kidnapper Siraj Ibn-Wahhaj was probably armed and dangerous and that moving against him was complicated by the presence of children.
So, nobody moved, even to save a sick, kidnapped child. Only two and a half months later, after an intercepted social media message said the kids were sick and soon the group might starve, was the raid authorized.
By then, Abdul-Ghani was dead and the other 11 kids were described as “emaciated” and “dressed in rags.” Local prosecutors immediately filed 11 charges of child abuse against each of the 5 adults.
What took so long? No one is saying, so I’m going to take a guess: Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj and the other 11 children were just pawns in somebody’s long game – busting a suspected terrorist plot.
For which, by the way, Federal and local prosecutors say, there is plenty of evidence. But it must also be said, the plot, if there was one, was of very limited scale. Waiting to see if it was going to grow exposed 11 children to months of preventable psychological abuse and nutritional neglect.
The Feds are still working on their terrorism case, while the locals move slowly towards refiling charges against Jany Leveille and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj of child abuse leading to death, charges which carry a possible life sentence. And if these cases go to trial, children left abandoned for months of abuse will likely be the most important prosecution witnesses.
John Miller is the crime and court reporter for The Taos (NM) News. He’s been covering the story of the raid on the suspected terrorist training camp in Amalia, NM since the county Sheriff’s deputies raided the property on August 3.