A federal appeals court has overturned a ruling by a West Texas judge that resulted in a six-year prison sentence for a man accused of fraud.
The federal panel determined in a filing Tuesday that the judge interfered with plea negotiations involving Adrian Pena. The El Paso contractor pleaded guilty in December 2010 to fraud for his participation in a scheme to bribe officials to win county contracts.
The appeals court says federal Judge Frank Montalvo's condition that a separate civil case involving Pena be resolved before he accepted the plea induced Pena to cooperate with the government in the investigation and plead guilty, rather than continue bargaining.
The ruling orders the guilty plea and six-year prison sentence vacated and requires further proceedings be handled by a different judge.