Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Failed GOP candidate accused of plotting to have co-defendants killed • Source New Mexico

A failed Republican candidate who’s accused of orchestrating a scheme to shoot at the homes of several elected Democratic officials now faces additional charges. In an indictment filed last week, federal prosecutors alleged that 40-year-old Solomon Peña tried to hire two people to kill witnesses in a case against him.

A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted Peña on three counts of solicitation to commit a federal crime of violence and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. The charges are in addition to previous ones filed against him.

The indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, states that on three occasions in summer of 2023, Peña contacted two people who are identified only as “Individual 1” and “Individual 2” to “kill and attempt to kill a witness” to prevent their “attendance and testimony” in an upcoming federal trial.

The witnesses are not named in the indictment either.

Elizabeth Honce, Peña’s attorney, said that the witnesses are Demetrio Trujillo and Jose Trujillo, a father-son duo who are co-defendants in the case against Peña and who accepted plea agreements in the case earlier this year.

“At this point we are very concerned that the United States attorney’s office is attempting to poison the jury pool against my client so he can’t get a fair trial,” she said. “My client is innocent until proven guilty. Beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The indictment states that an alleged conversation with “Individual 1” took place “on or between” June 7 and June 30, 2023, and that the alleged conversations with “Individual 2” took place “on or between” Sept. 22, 2023, and Feb. 2, 2024.

During those time periods, Peña was incarcerated while awaiting trial.

Honce said the U.S. Department of Justice informed her on Wednesday that it would provide her with details about the jail phone calls that led to the new charges, but she said as of Friday afternoon, she hadn’t yet received any information or copies of those recordings.

The indictment states a new charge for being a felon in possession of a firearm was added because Peña “knowingly possessed a firearm and ammunition” following a 2008 felony conviction in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court for burglary, larceny and other crimes as part of a “smash and grab” burglaries at big-box retail stores. Under federal law, it is generally a crime for people convicted of felonies to purchase or possess firearms or ammunition.

Peña maintains that he is innocent of all charges against him, including the ones filed Tuesday, Honce said.

Initial charges

Peña sought election to represent New Mexico House District 14 as a Republican but lost to Democrat Miguel Garcia in a 74% to 26% landslide. D14 includes some of southern Albuquerque and the South Valley.

A federal grand jury previously indicted Peña and the Trujillos on charges related to drive-by shootings at the Albuquerque homes of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, state House Speaker Javier Martínez, Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley and state Sen. Linda Lopez.

In February, the Trujillos accepted plea agreements offered by federal prosecutors. As part of the agreements, both men admitted to five criminal charges related to the shootings. Those charges included conspiracy, election interference, using a gun to commit a crime and firing that gun.

The police investigation into Peña and the Trujillos began when a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy pulled over a car driven by Jose Trujillo. Less than an hour before the traffic stop, Albuquerque police responded to reports of shots fired at Lopez’s home, about five miles away.

Police determined that Jose Trujillo had an active arrest warrant, and deputies found fentanyl pills and two guns in the vehicle, according to an affidavit filed in Bernalillo Metropolitan Court. Deputies said they stopped the car because it did not have a current registration sticker on its license plate. That vehicle was registered to Peña.

Following a shooting at the home of Commissioner O’Malley, O’Malley told police Peña had been at her home a day or two earlier and that he was “upset that he had not won the election,” the affidavit stated. Commissioner Barboa previously told CNN Peña had also come to her home and spoke erratically about fake elections. (Commissioners certify the results of an election.)

After arresting Jose Trujillo, police obtained a search warrant for his cellphone. Data from the phone showed that Peña sent Jose Trujillo the address of Barboa’s home, and that Jose Trujillo had searched the address using Apple Maps. Peña also sent Jose Trujillo the addresses to the homes of Martínez, O’Malley and Lopez.

According to the Trujillos’ plea agreements, Jose Trujillo helped Peña’s campaign, including accepting money to let him use his bank account to channel just over $5,000 to his campaign. Jose Trujillo gave Barboa’s address to his father because Peña wanted more help intimidating the targets of the scheme.

The day before the election, Peña pressured Bernalillo County commissioners to refuse to certify the election results. “He paid me to help, and I agreed,” Demetrio Trujillo said in his plea agreement.

At some point after the 2022 election, the Trujillos said Peña told them and others “the election was rigged against him.”

Peña has never conceded the race.

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