Solomon Pena, a former Republican candidate for the New Mexico state House, was arrested Monday on charges of being behind a series of shootings targeting the homes of Democratic officials in Albuquerque. Photo courtesy of Solomon Pena/Twitter
Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Authorities in Albuquerque announced Monday that a failed New Mexico state House candidate has been arrested on accusations of orchestrating a series of recent shootings at the homes of Democratic officials.
A SWAT team arrested Republican Solomon Pena, 39, in Albuquerque on Monday afternoon for leading a conspiracy involving four gunmen whom he paid to shoot at the homes of two Bernalillo County commissioners and two state legislators over a month period starting in early December, authorities and officials said during a press conference.
"It is believed that he is the mastermind that was behind this and that was organizing this," Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina told reporters.
The series of shootings had raised concerns in Albuquerque and fears for the safety Democrats, with officials describing it as an attack on democracy.
During the Monday press conference, authorities pointed to Pena's November defeat for the district 14 seat in the state House as potential motive for organizing the shootings. Democrat Miguel Garcia beat Pena with a vote share of 74% to 26%, according to state results.
Following the election in November, Pena published a photo of himself to Twitter with a caption that reads: "I never conceded my HD 14 race. Now researching my options."
Authorities on Monday said that following his election loss, Pena had visited three county commissioners and one of two state senators who would be a target of the conspiracy to lodge complaints alleging the contest he lost had been rigged and involved fraud.
Shortly after he visited their houses, the shootings in December began, authorities said.
Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller described Pena during the press conference as a "right-wing radical," an "election denier" and "someone who did the worst imaginable thing you can do when you have a political disagreement, which is to turn that to violence."
"This type or radicalism is a threat to our nation, and it has made its way to our doorstep right here in Albuquerque, New Mexico. But I know here we are going to push back and we will not allow this to cross the threshold," he said.
Pena is one of five suspects in the case. Authorities said Pena contacted the men and paid them in cash for the shootings.
Authorities would not say how many of the suspects were in custody Monday night, but Albuquerque police acting commander Kyle Hartsock said they were still investigating the gunmen to see "if they were even aware who these targets were."
Pena was arrested in connection to the shootings at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa on Dec. 4, the home of New Mexico House Speaker Javier Martinez on Dec. 8, the home of former Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley on Dec. 11 and State Sen. Linda Lopez on Jan. 3.
Hartsock said they also have evidence showing that Pena was present for the last shooting at Lopez's home "and actually pulled the trigger on at least one of the firearms used."
Medina said that police arrested suspect Jose Trujillo less than an hour following the Lopez shooting. He said he was arrested following a traffic stop and that it was unknown at that time if he had been involved in any crime.
Inside his vehicle, officers found two guns, 800 fentanyl pills and cash, and it was through working with federal partners that they were able to match one of the weapons to the Lopez shooting, authorities said.
"This was a story about partnerships working together, utilizing technologies that got us the results that we needed in order to clear this case," Medina said.
Authorities had originally tied at least two other shootings to the series of crimes: One on Dec. 10 at the former campaign office of newly elected Attorney General Raul Torrez and another on Jan. 5 at the law office of State Sen. Moe Maestas. On Monday, they said there was no evidence to connect them to Pena.
"I commend the Albuquerque Police Department, State Police, the Bernalillo County Sheriff and the District Attorney's Office for a successful partnership to apprehend the suspected perpetrator," New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement.
"There is no place in our society or our democracy for violence against any elected official or their families, and I trust the justice system will hold those responsible for such attacks to full and fair account."