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, who is accused of using murder and violence to traffic in tons of cocaine as the head of the Sinaloa cartel.
Prosecutors said they would consider issues of whether money was tainted as they arise, and opposed a request for the proposed legal team to enter the case on a limited basis to argue the forfeiture issue.
Members of the prospective legal team said the government — which earlier criticized Guzman for using taxpayer funded lawyers when he had plenty of money — was being hypocritical.
“The government said 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. They are, in effect, denying him the right to counsel of his choice.”
“The government doesn’t fully grasp or address the thrust of private counsels’ provisional appearance request,” said Fernich. “And it misses the constitutional implications of its position, effectively infringing Mr. Guzman’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choosing.”