Federal judge orders 5 defendants in compound case held until trial
ALBUQUERQUE — All five defendants arrested after a raid on a Taos County compound were ordered detained until their trial on federal firearms charges following a hearing Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.
Federal Judge Kirtan Khalsa ruled that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40; his wife, Jany Leveille, 35; and his sister Hujrah Wahhaj, 37, should be detained because they are a danger to the community and a flight risk. The judge determined another sister, Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, who is pregnant, and Lucas Morton, 40, also are a danger to the community.
Leveille, a Haitian immigrant living in the U.S. without authorization, is accused of illegally transporting firearms from Georgia to New Mexico. Her co-defendants are accused of aiding her.
Khalsa also prohibited Leveille from seeing the three oldest of her six children, who might be called to testify.
A federal grand jury indicted the five defendants Tuesday.
The indictment and the U.S. District Court judge’s rulings were the latest actions in what began as a high-profile child abuse case, with Taos County authorities accusing the group of keeping 11 children in squalid conditions at a makeshift dwelling near Amalia. The children were taken into protective custody. Law enforcement said they also found a cache of guns and ammunition at the compound that was raided lasy month.
Two of the defendants, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Leveille, faced additional charges in the death of a 12th child whose remains were found buried in a tunnel at the site. The child was the 3-year-old son of Wahhaj. His mother had reported him missing from Georgia and said he was in need of medication to prevent severe seizures. Authorities have accused Wahhaj and Leveille of denying him the medication.
State prosecutors, in trying to convince a state district judge in Taos to order all five defendants held without bond, alleged they had been training children to carry out shootings and were planning attacks on government institutions and an Atlanta hospital.
In separate hearings, two state judges determined the prosecutors had not presented enough evidence to back their allegations. State district judges also dismissed child abuse charges against the group because prosecutors failed to hold hearings by a required deadline.
Three of the defendants were released from jail the day after their cases were dropped but were arrested hours later on the federal charges.
Testimony and evidence presented Wednesday in federal court was nearly identical to that presented in the state court. But this time, Khalsa determined it was sufficient to hold the five defendants without bail.
FBI Special Agent Travis Taylor testified Wednesday that a firing range was found at the compound, and that two of Leveille’s children, age 13 and 15, told authorities they were being trained to carry out attacks.
Taylor said the teens also told him Leveille had proclaimed herself a kind of prophet and the leader of the group, and that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj’s 3-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, had died during an Islamic prayer ritual.
Leveille believed Abdul-Ghani would be resurrected as Jesus Christ, Taylor testified, and would then instruct the group on which corrupt government institutions they were to either convert to their beliefs or destroy.
Defense attorneys called his testimony into question. Referring to transcripts of interviews with the children, the attorneys noted that at least one child denied more than once that any such plan was ever put in place.
They also accused Taylor of using coercive tactics to manipulate the children into providing answers that would support allegations their parents were planning to carry out attacks. Interviews often were conducted without the presence of a legal guardian or other supervisor, the attorneys said.
Arguing that federal prosecutors hadn’t shown their clients pose a risk, the attorneys requested the defendants be transferred to La Posada Halfway House in Albuquerque.
But Khalsa said the home’s director was concerned the high-profile nature of the case would pose a danger for both the defendants and residents. Instead, the judge ordered the defendants remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and said they would be held in separate facilities.
The judge also ruled that while Leveille cannot have contact with her two teens or her 8-year-old child, she will be allowed supervised visits with her three younger children, ages 1, 3 and 6.
If convicted, each defendant faces up to five years in prison.
A version of this story first appeared in the Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.