El Chapo’s Drug Money May Be Too Dirty for Lawyers to Take
U.S. taxpayers will continue to pay for the defense of one of the world’s richest narco lords after a judge said Monday he can’t guarantee private lawyers would keep fees.
El Chapo’s fortune may be worth nothing in court.
A federal judge on Monday said he could not guarantee defense attorneys could keep money they would be paid from the drug lord whose real name is Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera. Guzmán’s chosen private lawyers worry prosecutors may seek forfeiture of their legal fees if they officially sign on to the case, because prosecutors contend the fortune was obtained illicitly through the drug trade.
As a result, taxpayers will continue to foot the legal fees for one of the richest men in the world, who is currently represented by federal public defenders Michelle Gelernt, Michael Schneider, and Ed Zas.
But Cogan did warn the attorneys that the time to swap out lawyers without a serious setback was running low.
“If it takes another couple of months, I’m not going to listen to oh, now we’re going to have to move the trial date,” Cogan said.
El Chapo’s trial is currently set to begin in April 2018.
“They, as well as we, intend to be ready for the trial date set by this court,” Gelernt reassured the judge.
The potential new lawyers sat in back of the courtroom next to Emma Coronel Aispuro, El Chapo’s beauty-queen wife. She was there with his two young daughters and the drug lord’s sister, Bernarda Guzman Loera, who had flown in from Mexico. They were accompanied by another woman who helped care for the twin girls, who wore identical navy blue dresses with red and green trim.
El Chapo waved at the family when he was led out by U.S. Marshals. When he exited, one of the girls waved back and smiled in glee.
Coronel and Bernarda Guzman Loera did not take questions. But the lawyers itching to get on the case blasted prosecutors’ unwillingness to enable them to step in.
"As much as we love trying cases and we love working for our clients, this case demands a tremendous amount of work and dedication," said Jeffrey Lichtman, one of Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera’s selected private attorneys. “We’re not asking for money that has already been seized. We’re asking for money that the government would otherwise never get their hands on.”
Lichtman and Eduardo Balarezo, another member of the proposed legal team, told reporters that even if they agreed to work without pay, they would not be able to staff an adequate team for a case of this magnitude without some funding from Guzman.
"You saw how many prosecutors were sitting at the table,” Lichtman joked. “That's enough for a minyan!"
Both the new lawyers and Gelernt said they’d noticed a marked deterioration in El Chapo’s physical and mental state since he entered a federal jail in January. He is housed in the so-called 10 South unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where inmates in solitary confinement live with the lights on for 23 hours a day. One former resident described it as worse than Guantanamo Bay, after having been in both.
“I’ve represented people accused of terrorism and I’ve never seen conditions like this,” Lichtman said. “He can’t even speak to the guards, they don’t speak Spanish.”
“We’ve been trying to maintain the visits to alleviate some of the problems of solitary confinement,” Gelernt said. “I know we’re entertaining, but I’m sure Mr. Guzman would be rather visiting with family.”
El Chapo has not been allowed contact with his family or even to be in the same room as his lawyers since arriving at the jail. His lawyers have appealed to a magistrate judge for a facility that would enable them to be in the same physical space as their client, but that issue has not yet been resolved.
But El Chapo will finally get a visit from a relative on Thursday, Balarezo said. His wife is not allowed to visit him in prison. However, his sister was present in court on Monday.
Notably absent from Monday’s court proceedings was Icela Guzman, a California woman who passed herself off as Rosa Isela Guzman Loera, El Chapo’s supposed oldest daughter, at previous hearings. A Daily Beast investigation in June found that she had legally changed her name from Rosa Isela Gonzalez de Campos after making the paternity claim in an article in The Guardian in March 2016.
Jose Luis Gonzalez Meza, a Mexican “human rights” attorney who appeared with Icela Guzman earlier this year, did show up outside the courthouse. Meza claims to have represented Guzman in Mexico City, and on Monday distributed a flier proclaiming his run for the Mexican presidency.
Marc Fernich, another of El Chapo’s private lawyers who also worked with Lichtman on the Gotti case, said he had no idea who Meza was.
“I thought he was a chef,” he said.