El Chapo in U.S. custody after his extradition from Mexico. (DEA)
Drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera has a dream team of defense attorneys ready to represent him in his criminal case, but they want assurances the government won’t pursue forfeiture of their attorney fees before they appear.
Guzman, the head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, is charged with 17 counts, which include running a criminal enterprise from the late 1980s to 2014, conspiring to import and distribute cocaine in the United States, using firearms as part of a drug-trafficking operation and conspiring to launder money.
If convicted, the government will seek forfeiture of $14 billion, according to his indictment. In 2009, Forbes estimated Guzman was worth about $1 billion.
Guzman was extradited to the U.S. in January and was initially provided counsel from the Federal Defenders of New York.
He recently signed retainer agreements with Jeffrey Lichtman, who successfully defended John Gotti Jr. from three counts of murder conspiracy and other charges; Marc Frenich, who also worked on Gotti’s defense team; and A. Eduardo Balarezo and William Purpura, who represented convicted Mexican kingpin Alfredo Beltran Leyva.
On Monday, the Federal Defenders filed a letter stating Guzman’s private counsel are reluctant to formally appear in the case without a guarantee the government won’t pursue forfeiture of their attorney fees.
“As much as I enjoy trying cases, I don’t know that I want to spend the next year or two working for free,” Lichtman said in an interview.
On Friday, the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a letter stating that it would not grant a “blanket, prospective assurance” that it would forgo forfeiture of monies paid for legal fees. A spokesman for the office declined to comment.