First on CNN: New Mexico AG investigating campaign finances of GOP candidate accused of orchestrating shootings

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CNN

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez’s office is taking the lead in investigating the campaign finances of Solomon Peña, who police say was behind a series of shootings at the homes of Democratic officials.

The move comes after Albuquerque police said they were investigating whether Peña’s campaign was funded in part by money from the sale of narcotics that was laundered in campaign contributions.

“We have formally opened an investigation into campaign finances,” Lauren Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, told CNN.

Peña, a Republican and outspoken supporter of former President Donald Trump, who lost a state House race in 2022, is accused of hiring and conspiring with four men to shoot up the homes of two state legislators and two county commissioners.

He was arrested on Monday and is due to appear in district court on Jan. 23 for a hearing that will determine whether he will be detained or released under conditions.

The Albuquerque Police Department said in a statement that investigators believe Peña “identified individuals to funnel contributions from an unknown source to his legislative campaign.”

“Detectives are working with other law enforcement agencies to determine whether money for campaign contributions was generated by narcotics trafficking and whether campaign laws were violated,” the department said in the statement.

Campaign financial records show that the single biggest contributor to Peña’s campaign was José Trujillo, a man police say Peña recruited to be part of the sniper team.

Police say Trujillo, who donated $5,155 to Peña’s failed campaign and listed his occupation as a “cash,” was arrested Jan. 3 — the night of the last of four shootings — on an outstanding arrest warrant.

A Bernalillo County sheriff found Trujillo with more than $3,000 in cash, nearly 900 narcotics pills worth approximately $15,000 and two guns, one of which was ballistically compatible with that day’s shooting, police said. He was pulled over driving Peña’s car, said a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Albuquerque investigators are focused on Trujillo’s large campaign contributions and whether they may have come from drug money, because investigators say Trujillo has no known legitimate source of income and was busted with drugs and cash, the officer said. In an assault case in which Trujillo was the victim last fall, police records say Trujillo told police he was between the houses at the time.

“You have a suspected shooter claiming to be homeless with $3,000 in cash and a bag of drugs making large donations to a campaign. You have to ask yourself where that money comes from,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trujillo’s mother, Melanie Griego, donated $4,000, according to campaign financial records. But Griego vehemently denied making any campaign contributions in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal, telling the paper that she lives on a “monthly income” and doesn’t have thousands of dollars to invest in a political campaign.

CNN reached out to Peña and Trujillo’s attorney, but did not receive an immediate response.

A criminal complaint in the court case against Peña says Trujillo, his father Demetrio and his two brothers conspired with the failed Republican candidate to shoot up four politicians’ homes. The four were not charged, but additional charges are expected in the case.

A police source said Peña met members of the hit team he allegedly recruited while he was in prison serving time for his role on a team that specialized in stealing cars and driving them through the windows of big box stores to steal high-end electronics.

Peña had to gain state court approval to run for office as a convicted felon. The state court concluded that under current New Mexico law, Peña was eligible to run because he had served his sentence and completed his probation.

Shots were fired at the homes of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa on December 4; the new Speaker of the House, Javier Martinez, on Dec. 8; then Commissioner Bernalillo Debbie O’Malley on Dec. 11; and State Senator Linda Lopez on Jan. 3, according to police.

Peña lost the race to Democratic state representative Miguel Garcia by 26% to 74%. A week later, he tweeted that he “never conceded” the race and was researching his options.

Barboa said, after the November election but before the shooting, that Peña — who had embraced Trump’s allegations of widespread voter fraud on social media — approached some officials in their homes with documents he claimed were evidence of voter fraud.

“He came to my house after the election. … He was saying the elections were fake … really speaking erratically. I didn’t feel threatened at the time, but I felt he was erratic,” Barboa told “CNN This Morning” on Tuesday.

CNN reached out to Peña’s campaign website for comment. On Wednesday, his lawyer, Roberta Yurcic, said in an email that the charges against him were “mere accusations.”

“Sir. Peña is found not guilty of the charges against him,” Yurcic said. “Sir. Peña and I look forward to a full and fair investigation of these claims. I fully intend to defend Mr. Peña and fiercely protect his rights throughout this process.”

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