Failed NM House candidate facing federal election interference charges after shootings

Prosecutors: Solomon Peña texted ‘close political ally’ hours before first shots were fired

By: - May 31, 2023 7:55 pm
Solomon Pena, a former Republican Party candidate for an NM House seat, has been charged in connection to shootings at Democratic politicians' homes in Albuquerque.

Solomon Peña, a 2022 Republican candidate for an N.M. House seat, has been charged in connection to shootings at Democratic politicians’ homes in Albuquerque. (Photo from his official campaign Twitter feed in mid-November)

A U.S. federal judge on Wednesday unsealed an indictment accusing a candidate for the New Mexico House of Representatives of orchestrating violent interference in the 2022 midterm election.

A week earlier, a federal grand jury charged Solomon Peña, 40, with crimes related to a spree of shootings targeting four elected officials in the Albuquerque area after his defeat in the Nov. 8, 2022 race for the District 14 seat in the lower chamber of the state Legislature.

The shootings happened at the homes of two Bernalillo County commissioners and two state lawmakers between Dec. 4, 2022 and Jan. 3, 2023. No one was physically harmed in the attacks, but police found bullet holes in the buildings.

According to the federal indictment, Demetrio Trujillo, 41, and his son Jose Louise Trujillo, 21, helped Peña obtain guns and cars they used to shoot at the officials’ homes and vehicles.

Since the lawmakers were candidates and the county officials were required by state law to certify the results, federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorneys Office are accusing the trio — along with four unnamed co-conspirators — of interfering with the election.

The charges outlined in the grand jury indictment against Peña and the Trujillos

Count 1: Conspiracy

Counts 2-5: Interference with Federally Protected Activities; Aiding and Abetting

Counts 6-8: Using and Carrying a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence, and Possessing a Firearm in Furtherance of Such Crime; Discharging Said Firearm; Aiding and Abetting

Count 9: Using and Carrying a Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence, and Possessing a Firearm in Furtherance of Such Crime; Discharging Said Firearm; Aiding and Abetting

Count 10: Possession with Intent to Distribute 40 Grams and More of Fentanyl

Count 11: Using and Carrying a Firearm During and in Relation to a Drug Trafficking Crime, and Possessing a Firearm in Furtherance of Such Crime

An apparent Trump supporter and election denier on his social media feed, Peña never conceded his own electoral loss last year, contending that the system was rigged.

In a written statement on Wednesday, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver condemned the violence and applauded the prosecution.

“The political violence allegedly perpetrated by Solomon Peña and his accomplices is a sobering reminder of how unfounded conspiracy theories and election denialism have real world consequences,” she said. “Political violence in our democracy must be repudiated at every turn, and I am pleased to see the federal government pursuing this case with the seriousness it deserves.”

As of Wednesday, all three men were in custody, according to court records. Peña has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center since Jan. 17, Jose Trujillo was arrested in January, and Demetrio Trujillo was arrested on Wednesday.

Demetrio Trujillo will make an initial appearance in court at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, and Jose Trujillo will appear for an arraignment hearing at 9:30 a.m. on June 8, both in Albuquerque.

Peña texted ‘close political ally’ just before first shooting

The Bernalillo County Board of County Commissioners certified Peña’s defeat on Nov. 21, 2022, along with that of Republican Lisa Meyer-Hagen, an Albuquerque real estate broker who ran for a different seat in the House.

“We have to press the attack,” Peña wrote to Meyer-Hagen in a text message one week earlier, according to the indictment. “They want us to become hopeless and give up.”

Meyer-Hagen is not a defendant in the case, and her role in it is unclear. It is not known if she has legal representation.

While prosecutors did not name Meyer-Hagen in the indictment, they referred to her as “a close political ally” of Peña and a candidate in the race for the District 11 seat in the House. There were no other candidates in the race.

She lost that race to House Speaker Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque). Martínez was targeted in the second shooting on Dec. 8.

According to the indictment, at 1:28 a.m. on Dec. 4, 2022, Peña wrote again to Meyer-Hagen:

“We can’t just sit around being angry. We have to act. I’m continuing my study of election rigging. The enemy will eventually break, because they are committing intentional wrongs, and all humans eventually make mistakes.”

Later that day, prosecutors wrote, Demetrio Trujillo and two unnamed co-conspirators fired their weapons at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa.

The indictment does not indicate any of Meyer-Hagen’s responses to Peña’s texts.

Reached by phone for comment on Wednesday, Meyer-Hagen said, “If you’re calling about Solomon Peña, I have no comment.”

Unnamed co-conspirators

The indictment mentions four “co-conspirators” without identifying them, saying two of them joined Demetrio Trujillo in the shootings at Barboa’s home on Dec. 4 and Martínez’s home on Dec. 8.

The third unnamed person received Barboa’s home address from Jose Trujillo on Nov. 19, and passed it on to Peña on Nov. 28, according to the indictment. This same person met with Peña on the day of the first shooting, prosecutors wrote.

A fourth person asked Peña to meet two days before the first shooting, and wrote, “asap got my guy here,” the court documents state.

Prosecutors accuse Peña, Demetrio Trujillo and Jose Trujillo of shooting at the home of former Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley on Dec. 11, and at the home of Sen. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque) on Jan. 3.

The Secretary of State’s Office is in the final stages of the rulemaking process to conceal officials’ home addresses, spokesperson Alex Curtas said, stemming from a new state law Toulouse Oliver helped shepherd through the last legislative session.

The rule lays out procedures for the secretary of state and county clerks “for the non-disclosure of home addresses for public officials and candidates on election and financial-related documents” and is a direct response to doxxing, threats, and instances of harassment and violence directed at public officials in recent years, Curtas said.

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.