NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A judge in New York has refused to guarantee that private lawyers seeking to represent Mexican drug lord and escape artist Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will get paid.
His current legal team had asked for assurances from prosecutors that if he hires the private lawyers, the government won’t later seek forfeiture of any legal fees based on arguments the money came from his estimated $14 billion in drug profits.READ MORE: 'Today, I Can Rejoice': New Yorkers Hit The Streets After Jury Finds Derek Chauvin Guilty In George Floyd's Death
U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan told them at a hearing in federal court on Monday that they would have to take that risk if they wanted to represent him.
“I’m not going to pressure the government to create a carve-out for counsel fees,” Cogan said.
Afterward, they told reporters that they still want to find a way to represent Guzman, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of running a drug trafficking cartel that laundered billions of dollars and oversaw murders and kidnappings.
“We are looking forward, desperately, to come into this case and fight for Joaquin Guzman. — The guy has a constitutional right to the best counsel he can get,” said one of the lawyers, Jeffrey Lichtman.
Prosecutors have argued that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for his defense. But they also said in a letter to the court last week that the government will not “grant a blanket prospective assurance” that it won’t go after money spent on a private defense.
Lichtman is known for successfully defended John “Junior” Gotti, son of the notorious organized crime family boss, at a 2005 trial. The younger Gotti walked free after an acquittal on a securities fraud count and a mistrial on more serious racketeering counts.READ MORE: Activists Celebrate Conviction Of Derek Chauvin In George Floyd's Death, But Say Fight Is Not Over: 'Tomorrow, We Still Have To Dismantle Systemic Oppression'
The lawyer said he has met with Guzman on a weekly basis, hoping to defend him at a trial in April.
“He is charming, funny, highly intelligent. I enjoyed getting to know him. — I don’t judge someone by what I read in the papers,” Lichtman told The Associated Press last week.
With his hands freed from shackles and cuffs, Guzman waved and smiled to relatives in the courtroom but did not speak during his brief appearance Monday. He appeared someone dazed when the legal argument started and his Lichtman said he isn’t surprised cause he’s been in solitary confinement for seven months.
“No contact with inmates, no contact with anyone but his lawyers and guards that don’t speak Spanish,” Lichtman said.
Mexico extradicted Guzman in January to the U.S., where he pleaded not guilty to charges that his drug trafficking operation, the Sinaloa cartel, laundered billions of dollars and oversaw a ruthless campaign of murders and kidnappings.
The defense has claimed that he’s being held in inhumane and overly restrictive conditions at a high-security jail in Manhattan known for housing alleged mobsters and terrorists.
The government has argued that his strict jail conditions are appropriate for someone who escaped from prison twice in Mexico, including once through a mile-long tunnel dug to the shower in his cell. Prosecutors said that even while he was behind bars in Mexico, Guzman used coded messages, bribes and other means to control his Sinaloa cartel and orchestrate his breakouts.MORE NEWS: Police: Gabriel Dewitt Wilson In Custody After Deadly Shooting At West Hempstead Stop & Shop
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)