First on CNN: New Mexico AG probing campaign finances of GOP candidate accused of orchestrating shootings

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez’ office is taking the lead in probing the campaign finances of Solomon Peña, who police say was behind a spate of shootings at Democratic officials’ homes.

The move comes after Albuquerque police said they were investigating whether Peña’s campaign was funded in part by cash from narcotics sales that were laundered into campaign contributions.

“We have formally opened an investigation into the campaign finances,” Lauren Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, told CNN.

Peña, a Republican and vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump who lost a state House race in 2022, is accused of hiring and conspiring with four men to shoot at the homes of two state legislators and two county commissioners.

He was arrested Monday and is due to appear in district court on January 23 for a hearing that will determine whether he is detained or released with conditions.

The Albuquerque Police Department said in a statement that investigators believe Peña “identified individuals to funnel contributions from an unknown source to his legislative campaign.”

“Detectives are working with other law enforcement agencies to determine whether the money for the campaign contributions was generated from narcotics trafficking, and whether campaign laws were violated,” the department said in the statement.

Campaign finance records show the single largest contributor to Peña’s campaign was José Trujillo, a man who police say Peña recruited to be part of the team of shooters.

Police say Trujillo, who donated $5,155 to Peña’s failed campaign and listed his occupation as “cashier,” was arrested on January 3 — the night of the last of four shootings — on an outstanding felony warrant.

A Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy found Trujillo with more than $3,000 in cash, nearly 900 narcotics pills worth roughly $15,000 and two guns, one of which was ballistically matched to that day’s shooting, police said. He was stopped driving Peña’s car, said a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Albuquerque investigators are focused on Trujillo’s large campaign contributions and whether they might have come from drug money, because investigators say Trujillo has no known legitimate source of income and was arrested with drugs and money, the law enforcement official said. In an assault case in which Trujillo was the victim last fall, police records say Trujillo told police he was between homes at the time.

“You have a suspected gunman who claims to be homeless with $3,000 dollars in cash and a bag of drugs making big donations to a campaign. You have to ask yourself where that money is coming from,” said the law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Trujillo’s mother, Melanie Griego, donated $4,000, according to campaign finance records. But Griego staunchly denied making any campaign contributions in an interview with the Albuquerque Journal, telling the newspaper she lives on a “monthly income” and doesn’t have thousands of dollars to invest in a political campaign.

CNN reached out to Peña’s and Trujillo’s attorney but did not immediately receive a response.

A criminal complaint in the court case against Peña says that Trujillo, his father Demetrio and his two brothers conspired with the failed Republican candidate to shoot up the homes of four politicians. The four have not been charged, but additional charges are expected in the case.

A law enforcement source said Peña met members of the shooting team he allegedly recruited when he was in prison serving time for his role in a smash-and-grab team that specialized in stealing cars and driving them through the windows of big box stores to steal high-end electronics.

Peña had to obtain state court approval to run for office as a convicted felon. The state court concluded that under current New Mexico law, Peña was eligible to run because he had served his sentence and completed his parole.

Gunshots were fired into the homes of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa on December 4; incoming state House Speaker Javier Martinez on December 8; then-Bernalillo Commissioner Debbie O’Malley on December 11; and state Sen. Linda Lopez on January 3, according to police.

Peña lost his race to Democratic state Rep. Miguel Garcia 26% to 74%. A week later, he tweeted he “never conceded” the race and was researching his options.

Barboa said, after November’s election but before the shootings, that Peña — who had embraced Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud on social media — had approached some officials at their homes with paperwork he claimed was evidence of election fraud.

“He came to my house after the election. … He was saying that the elections were fake … really speaking erratically. I didn’t feel threatened at the time, but I did feel like he was erratic,” Barboa told “CNN This Morning” on Tuesday.

CNN has reached out to Peña’s campaign website for comment. On Wednesday, his attorney, Roberta Yurcic, said in an email that the allegations against him are “merely accusations.”

“Mr. Peña is presumed innocent of the charges against him,” Yurcic said. “Mr. Peña and I look forward to a full and fair investigation of these claims. I plan to fully defend Mr. Peña and fiercely safeguard his rights throughout this process.”

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