HOUSTON (AP) _ A federal judge withdrew from a large tax fraud case because one of the defendants allegedly offered money to have him killed, lawyers said.

U.S. District Judge Samuel B. Kent of Galveston presided over three trials in the case and recused himself last month. He wouldn't discuss the decision on Thursday.

A motion filed by the Justice Department asked that Kent step down because one of 24 defendants, Boko Chuks Eke, ''is purported to have made threats upon the life of the presiding judge in this case.''

Eke's lawyer, Reginald E. McKamie, said his client was accused by someone at the Galveston County Jail of offering several thousand dollars to have the judge killed.

The Justice Department motion said Eke also allegedly threatened an Internal Revenue Service agent.

Eke, 33, is in custody on a conviction for conspiracy to commit tax fraud. He is awaiting sentencing.

The defendants are accused of bilking Houston area taxpayers and banks out of $1.7 million through refund anticipation loans.