A failed Republican candidate for the New Mexico House visited the homes of local Democratic leaders to vehemently dispute his election loss weeks before he is alleged to have orchestrated a series of shootings at their residences, elected officials said.
Republican Solomon Pena is accused of conspiring with and paying four men to carry out four shootings at Albuquerque-area homes of two Bernalillo County commissioners and two state legislators, Albuquerque police said.
No one was hurt, and police announced his arrest Monday evening.
Efforts to reach Pena were not successful Tuesday.
“Pena came to my house right after the [November] election. He was sort of erratic in the points he was trying to make about the election and about how many doors he knocked on and how the number of votes didn’t match,” Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa said in a phone interview.
Barboa said she called police after the incident.
“He was at my door, and he was aggressive. He was an election denier,” Barboa said. Eight shots were fired at her home Dec. 4, the first in the series of shootings that targeted local and state Democrats.
Former County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley shared a similar experience with Pena, an avowed supporter of President Donald Trump who openly denied the results of the election. It occurred around the time he called upon Barboa. Pena first visited O'Malley's former home before he tracked her down to her current address.
New Mexico GOP candidate arrested in plot to shoot Democratic officialsJan. 18, 202302:17
“This guy came to my home. I was very concerned about it, and it was very unsettling. He was angry about losing the election,” she said. “He felt the election was unfair and untrue.”
While he did not threaten her during the November encounter, she did call authorities. Deputies patrolled her house for a few days thereafter.
But weeks later — on Dec. 11 — 12 bullets struck her home while she and her husband slept, police said.
He "could have killed us," O’Malley said.
'The desired effect of the shootings'
Police found a Glock 17 and an assault rifle, more than 800 counterfeit oxycodone pills made of fentanyl and a large amount of cash in a Nissan Maxima that they had pulled over in a routine traffic stop less than an hour after shots were fired outside the home of state Sen. Linda Lopez, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
The car belonged to Pena, but a man — who police later discovered was one of the four men Pena is accused of having hired to commit the shootings — was behind the wheel of the car only 5 miles from the shooting.
It was later discovered that one of the guns in the car appeared to have fired shots outside Lopez's home, the complaint said. A shell casing found in the Maxima also matched those found outside the home of new state House Speaker Javier Martinez on Dec. 8, police said.
Using Trujillo's cellphone records and an informant, police uncovered that Pena had sent addresses, instructions, coded messages and public meeting points to those involved in the shooting, which is alleged to have involved the driver and his two brothers, and paid them all $500 to divide for the first shooting, the complaint said.
The informant, who was also present for the shootings, claimed that one of the men told the shooters to aim above the homes' windows to avoid hitting anyone but that Pena later complained, because he "wanted the shootings to be more aggressive."
Pena "wanted them to aim lower and shoot around 8PM because occupants would more likely not be laying down," the complaint said, which "would increase the chance of obtaining the desired effect of the shootings."
It had the effect of scaring the victims, it appears, as Lopez recounted in the complaint that her 10-year-old daughter was awakened by what she believed was a spider "crawling on her face" and later "asked why it felt like there was sand in the bed."
"As it turned out, sheetrock dust was blown onto Linda's daughter's face and bed" by the bullets that passed through her bedroom overhead. Officers found 12 bullet holes in the home.
An aggrieved election denier
Police said Pena might have been motivated by anger over his November loss. Police spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said at a news conference Monday that Pena claimed his defeat was the result of election fraud.
Pena lost his state House challenge in a landslide to incumbent Democrat Miguel P. Garcia by 5,679 to 2,033, or 74% to 26%. There is no evidence to support his fraud claims, despite his adamance on Twitter and in other statements.
“No. It is rigged. Plain and simple,” Pena responded Nov. 16 on his official Twitter account to a post.
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 between Pena and local and state leaders became heated, Gallegos said, noting that it occurred shortly after the shootings.
Two other shootings previously thought to have been linked to the case — one on Dec. 10 at the former campaign office of Raúl Torrez, who was elected New Mexico’s attorney general, and another Jan. 5 outside the downtown law offices of newly appointed state Sen. Moe Maestas — haven’t been connected to Pena, police said Monday.
A history of crime and grievances
State records show that Monday's arrest was not Pena's first.
Across three cases in 2007, Pena was convicted of 20 charges, including burglary, receiving stolen property and larceny. The prosecutor dropped multiple charges of bribing or intimidating a witness.
Pena received a reduced sentence from the 25 years he could have faced, and he was given a further reduction for time served, which appears to have gotten him down to the nine-year mark he said he served in a comment on his verified Twitter account.
As a result of his conviction, Pena was also ordered to alcohol/substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, 90 days in Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous and anger management, court records show.
Because of his record, he lost his right to vote for many years. He was eligible for the reinstatement of those rights only in 2021 — the year he completed his probation — which means he most likely never cast votes for Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
Estranged from family
Pena is estranged from his immediate family, said his oldest brother, Joseph Pena, who lives in Dallas.
"He hasn't talked to us in years. It's probably been, I don't know, 15 years," he said.
Joseph Pena said he doesn't know why, adding: "He just stopped talking to us. I'm sure he has his reasons."
Joseph Pena says he knows nothing about his brother's arrest.
"I got to find out the details about it," he said. "I don't see why he'd talk to us now."
Sharon Bode, who has lived in the same building as Pena for the last few years, recalled him "riling people up during the election period."
"He put vulgar signs up in his windows and on his car. People in the building were not happy," Bode said, adding the signs "criticized Joe Biden."
Bode says her partner, who died a year ago, had several interactions with Pena.
“My partner got into difficult, unsolicited conversations with him as she came in and out of the building," she said. "He’s not a polite, nice person.”