FBI contacted Taos County Sheriff’s Office about compound in May
TAOS — The FBI suspected as early as May that a missing Georgia boy was at a makeshift compound in Amalia, a tiny community near the Colorado border, according to newly released records from Taos Central Dispatch.
The child’s body was found at the site early this month, three days after a law enforcement raid prompted authorities to take 11 children into state custody and arrest five adults on suspicion of neglecting the children. The FBI did not participate in the raid and has not commented on its investigation.
Responding to an inquiry about evidence collected at the compound before it was demolished last week, FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said “it would be inappropriate” for the agency to comment while cases connected to the investigation are pending.
The May 14 dispatch report indicates Special Agent Dennis Suta, who works for the FBI field office in Atlanta, requested assistance from the Taos County Sheriff’s Office.
“Request for assistance from local authorities of a [3-year-old] child,” the dispatch report reads, “have reason to believe he’s in Amalia. Have an address and would like a deputy to assist. This case is out of Atlanta, Georgia.”
“What sort of assistance is required?” a Taos deputy asked.
“Assist with kidnapped child,” the dispatcher said.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said the FBI tracked the boy’s father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, after an arrest warrant was issued, accusing him of abducting his young son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj.
Federal agents had watched the compound using aerial surveillance for an unknown number of months but never moved in on the property because of a lack of evidence, Hogrefe said.
The compound’s residents might have been in danger, the May 14 report says, with comments describing Siraj Ibn Wahhaj as potentially “armed and dangerous.” Deputies were warned not to broadcast chatter about the compound on the radio “as a precaution.”
Jason Badger, a resident who lives near the compound and owns the land where it was constructed, has said he submitted complaints earlier this year.
On June 8, a dispatch report shows, Badger complained that Lucas Morton, 40, a resident of the compound who owned property nearby, was trespassing on his land.
Badger “advised he needs assistance removing a squatter, Lucas Allen Morton, from his field,” a dispatcher said in the report.
The Taos County Sheriff’s Office said Badger had been advised to “get an eviction notice” before law enforcement would be able to take action.
The next dispatch report tied to the compound came Aug. 3, when members of the Taos County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico Office of the Superintendent of Insurance suited up for the raid. The move came after Georgia authorities notified Hogrefe of a Facebook message from a woman at the compound to a friend in Georgia, requesting food assistance and saying the group was starving.
Hogrefe has said the message gave his agency probable cause to search the property. Moving in sooner, he said this week, would have compromised the case.
“TCSO did this by the book,” Hogrefe said, “with lawful authority granted by a [search warrant] and with the best intentions.”
The final dispatch report is dated Aug. 13, when Jason Badger’s wife, Tanya Badger, called with concerns that the defendants in the case would return to the compound after District Judge Sarah Backus granted their release on bail.
Henry Varela, a spokesman with the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, which has placed the 11 children from the compound in foster homes, said the office had not received a complaint about the children’s living conditions prior to the Aug. 3 raid.
This story first appeared in the Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.