A former Republican candidate for the New Mexico House was arrested Monday for allegedly orchestrating a series of drive-by shootings targeting Democratic state officials this winter, Albuquerque police said.
Solomon Pena, who lost the November election to incumbent Rep. Miguel P. Garcia (D), paid four other men to shoot at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators, the Albuquerque police acting commander, Kyle Hartsock,said Monday at a news conference.
Five people were involved in the conspiracy, but it is unclear if all of the hired gunmen knew the targets were elected Democrats, according to police. The investigation remains ongoing, Hartsock said, and he wouldn’t specify how many of the suspects have been taken into custody. Albuquerque SWAT officers arrested Pena, 39, on Monday afternoon.
“It is believed that he is the mastermind that was behind this, and that was organizing this,” Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said of Pena.
The evidence investigators say they compiled against Pena includes firearms, cellphone records, surveillance footage and witnesses inside and outside the conspiracy.
After the election in November, Pena paid unnamed individuals in cash and sent text messages with addresses where he wanted them to carry out the shootings, according to a police statement.
“Within hours in one case, the shooting took place at the lawmakers home,” Hartsock said. “On the last shooting, we now have evidence that Pena himself went on this shooting and actually pulled the trigger on at least one of the firearms that was used.”
Sheriff’s deputies pulled over a car that someone else involved in the attack was driving about 40 minutes after the final shooting on Jan. 3, according to Hartsock.
“During that search, two firearms were recovered and at least one of them has been a direct match to the shooting that had just taken place,” Hartsock said. “The investigation is still ongoing. We’re still doing more warrants and interviewing more persons. We know we’re not at the end yet.”
Detectives served search warrants Monday at Pena’s apartment and at the home of two men who were allegedly paid by Pena to carry out the attacks, according to police. Pena did not talk to detectives after his arrest, police said, adding he is expected to be charged with several state crimes connected to shootings at four homes of Democratic officials.
In early January, Albuquerque police and federal agents began an investigation into whether the shootings that hit Democratic lawmakers’ homes this winter were connected or politically motivated.
“APD essentially discovered what we had all feared, and what we all suspected, that these shootings were indeed politically motivated,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller (D) said Monday afternoon. “This individual was actually a candidate for office against a Democratic House member just in November.”
In each shooting, several rounds of gunfire hit the walls and doors of buildings, though no injuries were reported. Some elected officials wrote on social media about living in fear.
After losing the election in November, Pena allegedly visited the homes of three county commissioners and a state senator, said Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesperson for Albuquerque police. Pena complained about his loss, claimed it was rigged and argued at length with one of the officials.
Those officials all rejected his ideas to change the outcome of the election. That rejection, and the argument with one of the officials, may have played a role in who was targeted, Gallegos said.
“I never conceded my HD 14 race,” Pena wrote on Twitter on Nov. 15. “Now researching my options.”
“This type of radicalism is a threat to our nation, and it has made its way to our doorstep,” said Keller, the mayor.
During the news conference Monday, law enforcement officials alleged that Pena was involved in four separate shootings that began in early December.
The first shooting happened on the afternoon of Dec. 4, when several shots were fired at the home of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa in Southeast Albuquerque.
“In early December, I returned from Christmas shopping to my home being shot up. It was terrifying. My house had four shots through the front door and windows, where just hours before my grandbaby and I were playing in the living room,” Barboa wrote in a Facebook post.
The second shooting occurred early on the morning of Dec. 8, when several shots were fired at the home of House Speaker Javier Martinez in the North Valley.
A third shooting took place Dec. 11, when more than a dozen shots were fired at the home of Bernalillo Commissioner Debbie O’Malley in the North Valley. O’Malley said in an email to a local television news station that she and her husband were awaken by the sound of gunfire.
“To say I am angry about this attack on my home — on my family, is the least of it,” O’Malley wrote. “I remember thinking how grateful I was that my grandchildren were not spending the night, and that those bullets did not go through my house.”
And the fourth shooting occurred Jan. 3, when another dozen shots were fired shortly after midnight at the home of state Sen. Linda Lopez in Southwest Albuquerque.
Someone involved with the conspiracy is assisting authorities with the case, Hartsock said. On Monday evening, a SWAT team was conducting a second search warrant at a second location, Gallegos told The Washington Post.