Wed, May 31, 2023 11:54 PM
By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A failed political candidate has been indicted on federal charges including election interference in connection with a series of drive-by shootings at the homes of state and local lawmakers in Albuquerque, according to a grand jury indictment that was unsealed Wednesday.
The indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque takes aim at former Republican candidate Solomon Peña and two alleged accomplices with additional conspiracy and weapons-related charges in connection with the shootings in December 2022 and January of this year on the homes of four Democratic officials, including the current state House speaker.
The attacks came amid a surge of threats and acts of intimidation against election workers and public officials across the country after former President Donald Trump and his allies spread false claims about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
U.S. Attorney Alexander Uballez highlighted that the shootings targeted the homes of two county commissioners shortly after their certification of the 2022 election.
“Peña targeted several of these public officials because, in their official capacity, they certified the election, which he lost,” Uballez said at a news conference. “In America, voters pick their leaders and would-be leaders don’t get to pick which voters they heed, which rules apply to them, or which laws to follow.”
No one was injured in the shootings. But in one case bullets passed through the bedroom of a state senator’s 10-year-old daughter.
The new indictment outlines smart-phone communications including text messages by Peña in the days following the Nov. 8, 2022, election that pinpoint the locations of officials' homes, allege election-rigging and confide to a politically ally about plans to “press the attack."
Text messages in the indictment show the 40-year-old candidate bristling with outrage as Bernalillo County commissions certified the results of the midterm election and his own overwhelming defeat as candidate for a seat in the state House of Representatives. Federal authorities say Peña hired others to conduct the shootings and carried out at least one shooting himself.
Hours before the first shooting on Dec. 4, 2022, Peña texted a Republican political ally, who also lost a bid for state representative, to say that “we have to act. I'm continuing my study of election rigging. The enemy will eventually break.”
Amid the shootings, Peña later texted one of several unnamed conspirators in the indictment to say, “It is our duty as Statesmen and Patriots, to stop the oligarchs from taking over our country."
Elizabeth Honce, a defense attorney for Peña, said her client maintains his innocence. Peña has been held without bail since his January arrest on charges in state district court related to the shootings. Those charges will be dismissed in deference to the federal indictment as Peña is transferred to federal custody, authorities said.
Federal charges were also filed against 22-year-old Jose Louise Trujillo and 41-year-old Demetrio Trujillo on allegations that they assisted Peña in obtaining vehicles and firearms — and that they “pulled the trigger themselves to fire bullets into the homes of the victims.”
Jose Trujillo was arrested in January on an outstanding warrant in a car with a stash of more than 800 fentanyl pills and two firearms, leading to a break in the investigation as officers traced at least one gun to bullet casings found the same day at one of the shootings. Authorities say Demetrio Trujillo was arrested Wednesday, while they declined to comment directly on whether several unnamed accomplices in the indictment would be charged.
John Anderson, an attorney for Jose Trujillo, declined to comment on the indictment when contacted Wednesday.
Police have described Peña as the instigator of a politically motivated conspiracy leading to shootings at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators. Charges against the three defendants include the use of an automatic weapon.
The shootings began Dec. 4, when eight rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa. Days later, state Rep. Javier Martínez’s home was targeted. On Dec. 11, more than a dozen rounds were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, police said. Martínez became the Democratic state House speaker in January.
The final related shooting, targeting state Sen. Linda Lopez’s home, unfolded in the midnight hour of Jan. 3. Police said more than a dozen shots were fired, including three that Lopez said passed through the bedroom of her sleeping daughter.
Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico secretary of state, said she was "pleased to see the federal government pursuing this case with the seriousness it deserves.”
Following the shootings, New Mexico state lawmakers this year enacted legislation that provides felony sanctions for intimidation of election regulators and allows some public officials and political candidates to keep their home address off government websites.
Recent assaults on politicians or their households include the hammer-wielding attack on the husband of them-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in October 2022 at the couple's San Francisco home. In July 2022, a man clutching a pointed weapon assaulted Republican candidate for New York governor Lee Zeldin — a congressman at the time — on stage at a speaking event.