A failed New Mexico state House candidate, described by police as an “election denier,” was arrested Monday in a series of shootings at the homes of state and local Democratic leaders.
Republican Solomon Peña is accused of conspiring and paying four men to carry out shootings at the homes of two Bernalillo county commissioners and two state legislators in the Albuquerque area, Albuquerque police said. No one was injured in the shooting.
Peña may have been motivated by anger over his defeat in November, police said. Police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos told an early Monday evening news conference that Peña claimed his defeat was the result of voter fraud.
Pena lost his state House race to incumbent Democrat Miguel P. Garcia 5,679 to 2,033, or 74% to 26%.
He took his case to three county commissioners and a state senator — some whose homes were targeted in the shootings — without success, Gallegos said.
“He complained about his election and felt he was rigged,” Gallegos said. “As the mayor said, he was an election denier – he doesn’t want to accept the results of his election.”
One of the meetings with local and state leaders got heated, he said.
“One really led to a big discussion, I think,” Gallegos said. “It was shortly after the shootings occurred.”
Peña was a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, who alleged voter fraud in his 2020 election defeat, an unfounded allegation. He was photographed during his campaign last year wearing a red “Make America Great Again” sweatshirt with a gold signature sewn on by the former president.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller described the attacks as the product of political extremism.
“This radicalism is a threat to our city, our state and our nation,” he said. tweeted Monday. “We will continue to fight hatred in all forms and stop political violence.”
Detectives allege Peña paid the four men in cash and texted them the addresses he wanted, Albuquerque police said.
Key to the investigation, police said, was a stop in traffic early on Jan. 3 in the Nissan Maxima de Peña, driven by a man named Jose Trujillo, who was arrested on an arrest warrant, police said in announced on Monday.
The arrest triggered an “inventory search” of the vehicle, a scan permitted by law to safely impound it, and authorities discovered more than 800 fentanyl pills in the center console, police said.
More crucial to the case were the two handguns found in the Nissan, one of which appeared to have gone off outside State Senator Linda Lopez’s home about 40 minutes before the traffic stop and four miles away, according to the latest statement from the police.
One of the guns matches a police officer’s description that Peña was responsible for one of the four shootings, according to the statement. The gun malfunctioned and he left the shot to one of the men he hired, police claimed. “Another gunman fired more than a dozen rounds from a separate weapon,” police said in a statement late on Monday.
In addition, a shell found in the Maxima matches those found at the scene of another shooting outside the home of new Mayor Javier Martinez on Dec. 8, police said.
One more capsule was found in another vehicle, reported stolen, which police say was used by one of the gunmen allegedly hired by Peña. That case matches a Dec. 4 report of gunshots fired outside the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa in southeast Albuquerque, police said.
Another shooting, in which more than a dozen shots were fired at the home of then Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, took place on Dec. 11 and completes the incidents that police say are linked to Peña.
Two other shootings believed to be linked to the case — December 10 shooting at the former campaign office of Raúl Torrez, who was elected New Mexico attorney general, and January 5 shooting outside the newly appointed law offices state senator. Moe Maestas – was not connected to Peña, police said at the news conference.
On January 9, police announced the arrest of another suspect in the case and said they had seized a firearm possibly used in one of the shootings. On Monday, police said four people besides Peña were involved, with more charges and arrests to come. The status of the January 9 suspect was unclear and police did not respond to a request for clarification.
On Monday, Police Chief Harold Medina described Peña as the initiator of the shootings.
“He is believed to be the mastermind behind this,” he said at Monday’s news conference.
A SWAT team arrested Peña at his Albuquerque-area apartment on Monday, police said.
It was unclear whether Peña had hired a lawyer for the case. There was no response to an inquiry sent through his campaign website. A company associated with Peña did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Albuquerque Journal describes Peña as an unsuccessful candidate for District 14 of the New Mexico House, which represents the Southern Valley of the Albuquerque area.
The newspaper reported during its campaign last year that Peña served nearly seven years in prison for robbery.
Police noted Monday night that the election winner, Garcia, unsuccessfully sued last year to have Peña deemed ineligible to serve in the legislature because of his criminal conviction.
Peña is described in a campaign email as a California native who graduated from high school in New Mexico, became a Marine hospital first responder assigned to Okinawa, Japan, owns a business and received a degree in political science from the University of of New Mexico in 2021.
On his campaign website, Peña promised a safer future for the state. “I will fight to provide opportunity for the next generation, keep the local economy open, and stop those who wish to harm New Mexicans — in any way,” he said.
CORRECTION (January 17, 2023, 11:22 am ET): An earlier version of this article distorted a police conclusion about a December 8 shooting at the home of House Speaker Javier Martinez. Police say the incident is linked to Peña; they didn’t say the shooting was unrelated to his arrest.
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