Less than a day after he was jailed in a plot that left several local politicians’ homes riddled with bullets, little is known publicly about Solomon Pena’s personal life.
But criminal and civil court records, police reports and the words of Republican leaders who donated to his failed campaign fill in some blanks.
A man identifying himself as a cousin of Pena answered the phone Tuesday but told the Journal he wouldn’t talk about Pena unless he was paid.
One of those Republicans who donated to Pena’s campaign, former State Legislator Janice Arnold-Jones, called the case “heartbreaking.”
She said Pena doesn’t represent the majority of Republicans “by any stretch.”
“To suggest that (Pena) was at all in Trump’s inner circle, I’m just telling you that is not true,” Arnold-Jones said. “… He may have been a devotee but that’s it.”
Monday night the Republican Party of New Mexico condemned the shooting, saying, “We are thankful that nobody was injured by his actions. If Pena is found guilty, he must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
According to Pena’s campaign website, he was born in California but raised in New Mexico where he graduated from Highland High School in 2001.
The site said Pena served as a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman in the 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa, but that could not be confirmed by the Journal.
Then in 2007, according to court records, Pena and several others were charged with multiple felonies in the “smash and grab” burglary of an Albuquerque K-Mart.
New Mexico Corrections spokeswoman Carmelina Hart said Pena served almost seven years in prison, from May 2009 to March 2016. She said he was then placed on supervised probation until March 2021.
During and directly after his incarceration, according to court records, Pena filed several complaints against GEO Group — which runs the prison — alleging public records and civil rights violations. Many were dismissed for various reasons.
Court records show that after Pena’s release he worked for Sitel for several months before being fired for allegedly “adding services to customer’s accounts without their consent.”
In 2017 Pena worked for less than a month as a car salesman at a Melloy dealership — selling two cars — before being fired after showing up “late on three different occasions,” according to court records.
In March of 2018, according to an incident report, Pena was detained briefly when he was found in a car with his brother Daniel Pena, who at the time was a fugitive from federal authorities.
In a September 2019 incident report, a man identifying himself as a “former business partner” told police Pena had verbally threatened him several times.
The man said there were “several deals” where Pena refused to pay him, according to the report. The man told police threats were not of “immediate physical harm” but Pena said things like “I will turn on you” and “I will do anything I can to damage you” and the man wanted the threats documented.
In 2022, Pena listed himself as a sales representative for A Reliable Roof LLC, a roofing contractor in Albuquerque.
At some point in between, Pena enrolled at the University of New Mexico.
UNM declined to elaborate on Pena’s time at the university or make any of his professors available for interview. UNM confirmed Pena earned a degree in political science in 2021.
Pena’s right to vote was restored sometime in April 2021 when he was discharged from probation. Online records show he is a registered Republican who has voted four times since then.
Pena erupted on the political scene in a November run to represent the South Valley in the House District 14 race. His opponent was Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, D-Albuquerque, who hadn’t faced a challenger in several years.
Arnold-Jones, the former State Legislator, said running in a historically uncontested race is hard but she and other donors “tried to give (Pena) some resources so he could make a credible run.”
She said it was clear that Pena was “entirely green” as a politician, telling her he was going to win based on people “at the door” saying he had their vote.
“Anybody that has been a candidate for very long knows that is not a very good measure of how you’re doing,” Arnold-Jones said. “Because at the door people are not going to tell you the truth.”
In the end Pena lost by more than 3,600 votes out of 7,593 votes cast to Garcia and claimed on social media without evidence that the election was “rigged.” Garcia had challenged Pena’s candidacy in court since he was a convicted felon, but a judge ruled Pena was allowed to stay on the ballot.
“It is what it is, it makes me very, very sad, there is no excuse for this behavior,” Arnold-Jones said, of the end result.
Jay Block, a Sandoval County commissioner, donated $104 to Pena’s campaign.
“I’ve donated to a lot of campaigns,” he said on Tuesday. “… I’d only talked to him very briefly.”
One of the biggest donors to Pena’s campaign was Jose Louis Trujillo, who pledged $2,455. Trujillo could not be reached Tuesday, he is behind bars and authorities say he was one of the men who fired at politicians’ homes on Pena’s orders.