Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn on Friday took a hard line on a request from lawyers who want to represent accused drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera to exempt their fees from forfeiture, saying the government would make no promises.
“The government has advised private counsel that it will not grant a blanket, prospective assurance that it will forgo forfeiture of any and all funds received from the defendant for his legal fees,” the prosecutors said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan.
Guzman has been represented by public defenders since he was extradited from Mexico in January. A retained defense team — including New York lawyers Jeffrey Lichtman and Marc Fernich, and Washington lawyer Eduardo Balarezo — said this week they were ready to take over if prosecutors promised not to seize their fees.
The government is seeking a $14 billion forfeiture from Guzman as part of the criminal case accusing him of using murder and violence to traffic in tons of cocaine as the head of the Sinaloa cartel.
Prosecutors said they would only consider issues of whether money was tainted as they arise, and also opposed a request for the proposed legal team to enter the case on a limited basis to argue the forfeiture issue as unnecessary.
Guzman’s lawyers in waiting quickly responded, arguing that the government — which earlier criticized Guzman for using taxpayer funded lawyers when he had plenty of money — was being hypocritical.
“The government claimed that Mr. Guzman is not eligible for public defender representation because of his alleged fortune,” Balarezo said. “However, now they won’t commit to allowing private counsel to be paid. They cannot have it both ways.”
“In the end, the government’s refusal to play fair may cause the American taxpayer to foot this huge legal bill,” Lichtman said.
“It misses the constitutional implications of its position,” added Fernich, “effectively infringing Mr. Guzman’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choosing.”