As police investigate if drug money funded Solomon Pena’s failed campaign, one top donor says she didn’t contribute - Albuquerque Journal

As police investigate if drug money funded Solomon Pena’s failed campaign, one top donor says she didn’t contribute

Officers guide a hand-cuffed Solomon Pena into the backseat of a police cruiser after he was arrested by the Albuquerque Police Department SWAT team Monday afternoon. Pena is accused of paying four men to shoot at the homes of Democratic lawmakers. (Roberto E. Rosales / Albuquerque Journal)

In reports filed on the New Mexico Secretary of State website, Melanie Griego is listed as having donated $4,000 to Republican Solomon Pena in his 2022 race against an incumbent Democrat to represent House District 14 in the Legislature.

Griego’s contributions, plus the $5,155 listed as coming from her son, 21-year-old Jose Luis Trujillo, made up nearly 40% of the $23,660 in Pena’s campaign coffers.

The problem is 39-year-old Griego — whose occupation is listed as “mother/dependent” in the reports — told the Journal on Thursday she never made those donations.

And Trujillo — whose occupation is listed as “cashier” — is in federal custody on drug-trafficking and firearm charges after police say Pena paid him, his father and two other men to shoot up the homes of four Democratic lawmakers.

“I’m not a political person. I just barely got my voting rights back and I didn’t even go vote,” Griego said, adding she’s on a monthly income and doesn’t have thousands of dollars to donate to a campaign. “I don’t follow the news. I’m not a Trump supporter. I’m not even a Biden supporter. I’m just a poor little Mexican girl from Albuquerque … I guess this is just one of them cases of being at the wrong place at the wrong time — over and over again — just the story of our lives.”

Pena lost his bid for office in November by a landslide and is facing several counts of shooting at a dwelling, shooting at or from a motor vehicle and conspiracy to commit a shooting at a dwelling, as well as possession of a firearm by a felon.

He was arrested in a SWAT standoff Monday in a case that’s grabbed national headlines.

On Thursday, the Albuquerque Police Department announced it is investigating “potential illegal activity” related to the monetary contributions Pena “solicited” during his failed campaign.

“APD detectives learned through witness interviews related to the shooting investigation that Pena identified individuals to funnel contributions from an unknown source to his legislative campaign,” Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, wrote in a news release. “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.”

Possible mental disease?

Authorities allege Pena was the mastermind behind four drive-by shootings that targeted the homes of Bernalillo County Commissioners Adriann Barboa and Debbie O’Malley, state Rep. Javier Martínez and state Sen. Linda Lopez over the course of a month. No one was injured in the shooting, but, in Lopez’s case, bullets went through her 10-year-old daughter’s bedroom while she slept.

Police say Pena orchestrated the shootings after losing his race and because he believes the election was “rigged.”

Trujillo was arrested a little over 4½ miles from Lopez’s house less than 40 minutes after the Jan. 3 shooting. He was driving Pena’s car and had more than 800 pills, believed to be fentanyl, a large amount of cash, a Glock pistol with a drum magazine and an AR pistol with him at the time, according to court documents.

Trujillo’s attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but has said in court filings that “there is reasonable cause to believe that Mr. Trujillo may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent.” He has requested a competency hearing.

Griego said her son — “a people person” and “busy bee” — was in special education growing up and she has not heard him express any opinions about the election.

“How can he understand political campaigns and come to the conclusion that he thinks the campaign is rigged or whatever it is,” Griego said. “He doesn’t even know how to spell ‘campaign.’ ”

Jose Trujillo, 21 (Metropolitan Detention Center)

She said she’d seen Trujillo, his baby and his baby’s mother over Christmas and had no idea that anything was amiss. She said she found out about her son’s involvement with Pena from news reports. “This is just blowing my mind,” Griego said. “I don’t know what is real and what’s not real. What’s true and what’s not true. I’m very disappointed.”

Supporting a fellow candidate

From the details in campaign report filings, Trujillo appears to have been the top donor to Pena’s campaign, just ahead of the Jalapeño Corp. — an Albuquerque-based oil and gas drilling and exploration company owned by Harvey E. Yates Jr.

Yates, who was in Kansas “sitting on a drilling well” Thursday evening, said he met Pena twice — once in a Republican Ward meeting about two years ago and once during the recent campaign.

“He seemed to be an intelligent and respectful young man who was trying to change his life’s path,” Yates said. “It is very sad that this analysis appears to have turned out to be wrong. Pena was one of about 20 candidates to whom my company donated $5,000.”

The Journal could not reach the other two people listed as Pena’s top donors: a security guard who gave $3,825 and a business operations specialist who gave $1,000.

Former State Legislator Janice Arnold-Jones, and gubernatorial candidates Jay Block and Greg Zanetti, all Republicans, also contributed to Pena’s campaign.

For his part, Pena was among the highest contributors to Republican Audrey Trujillo’s campaign for Secretary of State. According to campaign filing reports he donated $5,497.

Audrey Trujillo said Thursday she has received numerous contributions and Pena was one of many. She and Jose Trujillo are not related.

“I saw it as supporting a fellow Republican candidate,” Audrey Trujillo said.

Audrey Trujillo was defeated by incumbent Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver and was a controversial figure during the campaign after her social media account shared tweets mimicking a Spanish accent and suggested that Jews had an outsized influence in the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

At the time, Audrey Trujillo told the Journal she might have been hacked, but, if not, the tweets were not intended to be racist.

Pena also donated a little over $5,000 to the LaRouche PAC created to promote the ideas of Lyndon LaRouche, who ran for president eight times and died in 2019 at the age of 96.

According to the PAC’s website, global elites were challenged by LaRouche’s ideas and political organizing, so “he was framed up and thrown in prison for five years (1989-94) by the same intelligence and judicial networks that have waged the coup against Donald Trump, a coup which denied him his duly-elected second term.”

Journal staff writer Matthew Reisen contributed to this report.

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