Brooklyn federal prosecutors on Friday called for a court inquiry into whether alleged billionaire drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is entitled to continue receiving legal representation from a pair of public defenders.
Guzman was extradited from Mexico to face charges in Brooklyn last week, and was represented at his arraignment by two taxpayer-funded defense lawyers from the Federal Defenders of New York, Michael Schneider and Michelle Gelernt.
The letter to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan said Guzman was “making inquiries” of private counsel but hadn’t retained anyone yet, and noted that the cocaine kingpin and his Sinaloa cartel had been linked to 260 companies with interests in real estate, gas stations, construction and trucking companies, and furniture stores.
Prosecutors also said they were seeking to forfeit $14 billion in proceeds Guzman received from cocaine trafficking, that he probably paid more than $1 million for a tunnel and private plane to escape from a Mexican prison in 2015, and kept on retainer a “cadre” of Mexican lawyers to fight extradition and file human rights complaints for him.
Given the limited resources available for indigent defendants and others who lack the financial ability to retain counsel . . . the Court should make a strenuous inquiry into whether the defendant is financially unable to afford counsel,” prosecutors said.
They also told Cogan that if Guzman doesn’t replace his court-appointed lawyers, there could be a conflict of interest because the Federal Defenders have represented two potential cooperating witnesses against Guzman and three alleged co-conspirators.
Gelernt and Schneider did not respond to an email seeking comment late Friday.