High-powered prosecutors and defense attorneys hailing from New York, Washington, Maryland and Florida entered phase one of trial this week in the U.S. government’s case against Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, accused of running a billion-dollar international drug cartel known as Sinaloa.
Alleged kingpin Guzman, 61, denies being in charge of the operations, claiming he was middle management. In recent years, he’s gained notoriety for twice escaping high-security prisons. Guzman’s legal team is reported to have cost $5 million.
Here’s a roundup of who’s in his corner and who’s closing in on it.
For the prosecution:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Seth Fels of the Southern District of Florida opened for the prosecution, arguing that Guzman ordered hit men to kidnap, torture, interrogate and murder his adversaries.
“Not even Guzman’s own family members were immune,” Fels told the jury.
Fels is based in Miami, was admitted to the bar in 2015 and holds a law degree from the University of Chicago.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Goldbarg of the Eastern District of New York is originally from Argentina and a fluent Spanish speaker, which has proved handy for the prosecution. Goldbarg is senior litigation counsel at the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office and recently received an award from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for her role in prosecuting Los Zetas cartel members, convicted of murdering one Homeland Security special agent and wounding another.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hiral Mehta serves the Eastern District of New York. He was admitted to the bar in 2009 and obtained his law degree from Cornell Law School. Mehta recently prosecuted drugs trafficker and money launderer Salvador Jimenez Uribe, sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Notopoulos of the Eastern District of New York is senior litigation counsel. She also serves as an adjunct professor of clinical law at Brooklyn Law School. Notopoulos was admitted to the bar in 1982 and holds a law degree from Suffolk University.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gina Parlovecchio is chief of the international narcotics and money laundering division of the Eastern District of New York. In 2014, Parlovecchio won the National Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Award for her work on Operation What’s Up Doc, which led to more than 50 prosecutions.
Parlovecchio was admitted to the bar 2003 and holds a law degree from Cornell Law School.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Robotti serves the Eastern District of New York. Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein recently presented an award to Robotti for his investigation and prosecution of two leaders of violent Brooklyn gang, the “TF Mafia,” accused of a string of crimes including racketeering, sex trafficking, murder, narcotics trafficking and money laundering.
For the defense:
Jeffrey Lichtman is a New York criminal defense attorney with many high-profile cases under his belt. He’s practiced for 26 years.
Lichtman represented American mobster John Gotti Jr. in a federal trial that resulted in the dismissal of three murder conspiracy charges, an acquittal on a million-dollar securities fraud charge and a deadlocked jury on the remaining counts.
According to Lichtman, the Sinaloa cartel’s current leader, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, was the brains behind the crimes of which Guzman now stands accused. Lichtman described Zambada, a 70-year-old former poppy-field worker, as “the biggest drug trafficker in Mexico.”
Eduardo Balarezo is a Washington-based federal criminal defense lawyer whose taken on an array of high-profile cases. He’s represented Mexican drug kingpin Alfredo Beltran Leyva, an enemy of Guzman’s, and Zhenli Ye Gon, a Chinese-Mexican businessman accused of belonging to the Sinaloa cartel.
Michael Lambert of the Law Office of Michael Lambert is based in New York and specializes in criminal, drug, DUI and domestic violence cases.
Mariel Colon Miro is an associate at Lambert’s practice in New York. Miro wrote to Judge Brian Cogan this week requesting that Guzman be allowed to hug his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, before opening arguments.
William Purpura of the Law Offices of Purpura & Purpura is based in Maryland and specializes in defending drug lords. Purpura told The Baltimore Sun that Guzman’s case has him wading in 330,000 pages of documents spanning three decades.
U.S. District Judge Cogan for the Eastern District of New York is overseeing the proceedings. He was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006.
Guzman faces a 17-count indictment. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI investigated the case in cooperation with Mexican and Colombian law enforcement authorities.
The trial is expected to last about 16 weeks.