Jeffrey Lichtman, a New York criminal defense lawyer best known for successfully representing John Gotti, has agreed to represent Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera on drug trafficking charges if financial issues can be resolved.
Lichtman’s office confirmed he is one of the lawyers Guzman wants to retain, but a letter filed in Brooklyn federal court by the federal public defenders currently handling the case says that no retainer can be finalized until prosecutors agree to not seek forfeiture of money that would be used for legal fees.
“Counsel are reluctant…to formally appear without government assurance that it will not seek to forfeit their legal fees,” federal defenders Michelle Gelernt and Michael Schneider said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan. “We understand that the requested assurance thus far has not been forthcoming.”
A spokesman for Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde declined to comment on the dispute.
Gelernt and Schneider said they would ask Cogan at a hearing next week to set a deadline for the government to take a position on the forfeitability of funds that would be used for legal fees.
They also said they would ask permission for Lichtman and, according to the letter, a second lawyer who hasn’t been identified to file “provisional notices of appearances” to litigate the issue of fees.
Guzman, 60, is accused of using murders, kidnappings and ruthless violence to run a billion-dollar cocaine trafficking enterprise as the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. He twice escaped Mexican prisons and was extradited to the U.S. in January.
Lichtman’s best-known victory was an acquittal and hung jury in a murder-conspiracy and securities fraud trial involving Gotti, the son of the late Gambino family mob boss John Gotti, in 2005.