EL PASO, Texas — An appeals court has overturned a guilty plea and six-year-prison sentence for a man accused of participating in a bribery scheme to win government contracts in El Paso County.
The federal panel determined Tuesday that a judge interfered with plea negotiations involving El Paso businessman Adrian Pena. The contractor pleaded guilty in December 2010 to fraud.
The appeals court says U.S. District 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. Pena was sentenced in May 2011 and has been in prison since. He is expected to have a bond hearing in the near future.
The ruling orders the guilty plea and six-year prison sentence vacated and requires further proceedings be handled by a different judge.
Robert Pena, Adrian Pena's father, told The Associated Press the family is "very pleased "with the ruling but "disappointed by how long it took."
"Much of the delay was getting this into the open," Robert Pena said, referring to their efforts to unseal court documents that the family claims prove Adrian Pena's case.
The fraud charges against Pena stand and he was recently indicted along with his wife for allegedly conspiring to defraud the government by falsely charging the Department of Defense for building a facility in Arizona.
The elder Pena says his son was only a consultant for the company that received the Department of Defense funds. "He was not an official of that company, he never signed anything," he said.