A failed candidate for the New Mexico state House described by police as an “election denier” was arrested Monday in a string of shootings at the homes of state and local Democratic leaders.
Republican Solomon Peña is accused of conspiring with and paying four men to carry out shootings at the Albuquerque-area homes of two Bernalillo County commissioners and two state legislators, Albuquerque police said. No one was hurt in the shootings.
Peña might have been motivated by anger over his loss in November, police said. Police spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said at a news conference early Monday evening that Peña alleged his defeat was the result of election fraud.
Peña lost his state House challenge to incumbent Democrat Miguel P. Garcia by 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 — to no avail, Gallegos said.
“He had complaints about his election he felt being 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 became heated, he said.
“One actually led to quite an argument, I believe,” Gallegos said. “It was shortly after that the shootings occurred.”
Peña was a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, who claimed voter fraud in his 2020 election loss, an allegation that is unfounded. He was photographed during his campaign last year wearing a red “Make America Great Again” sweatshirt with a stitched, gold-colored signature of the former president.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller described the attacks as a product of political extremism.
“This radicalism is a threat to our city, our state, and our nation,” he tweeted Monday. “We will continue to push back against hate in all forms and stop political violence.”
Detectives allege Peña paid four men cash and texted them the addresses he wanted targeted, Albuquerque police said.
A key to the investigation, police said, was a traffic stop early Jan. 3 of Peña’s Nissan Maxima, driven by a man named Jose Trujillo, who was arrested based on a felony warrant, police said in a statement Monday.
The arrest triggered an “inventory search” of the vehicle, a sweep allowed under law in order to impound it safely, 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 fired shots outside the home of state Sen. Linda Lopez roughly 40 minutes before the traffic stop and 4 miles away, according to the latest police statement.
One of the guns matches the description of one police allege Peña took to one of the four shootings, according to the statement. The gun malfunctioned, and he left the shooting to one of the men he hired, police alleged. “Another shooter fired more than a dozen rounds from a separate handgun,” police said in their statement Monday night.
In addition, a shell casing found in the Maxima matched those found at the scene of another shooting, outside the home of new state House Speaker Javier Martinez on Dec. 8, police said.
One more casing was found in another vehicle, reported stolen, that police say was used by one of the shooters allegedly hired by Peña. That casing matched to a Dec. 4 report of shots 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 Dec. 11 and completes the incidents police say are tied to Peña.
Two other shootings previously believed to have been linked to the case — Dec. 10 gunfire at the former campaign office of Raúl Torrez, who was elected New Mexico’s attorney general, and Jan. 5 gunfire outside the downtown law offices of newly appointed state Sen. Moe Maestas — haven’t been connected to Peña, police said at the news conference.
On Jan. 9 police announced the arrest of another suspect in the case and said they took possession of a firearm possibly used in one of the shootings. On Monday, police said four people aside from Peña were involved, with more charges and arrests coming. The status of the Jan. 9 suspect wasn’t clear, and police didn’t respond to a request for clarity.
On Monday, Police Chief Harold Medina described Peña as the initiator of the shootings.
“It is believed that he is the mastermind behind this,” he said at Monday’s news conference.
A SWAT team arrested Peña at his apartment in the Albuquerque area Monday, police said.
It wasn’t clear whether Peña has retained counsel for the case. There was no response to an inquiry sent via his campaign site. A company associated with Peña didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Albuquerque Journal describes Peña as an unsuccessful candidate for New Mexico House District 14, which represents the Albuquerque area’s South Valley.
The newspaper reported during his campaign last year that Peña had served nearly seven years in prison for burglary.
Police noted Monday night that election winner Garcia unsuccessfully sued last year to have Peña deemed ineligible to serve in the Legislature because of his felony conviction.
Peña is described in a campaign email as a California native who completed high school in New Mexico, became a Navy hospital corpsman assigned to Okinawa, Japan, owns a business and earned a political science degree from the University of New Mexico in 2021.
On his campaign website, Peña vowed 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 New Mexicans harm — in any way,” he said.
CORRECTION (Jan. 17, 2023, 11:22 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated a police finding on a Dec. 8 shooting at the home of House Speaker Javier Martinez. Police say the incident is connected to Peña; they did not say that the shooting was not connected to his arrest.