A US judge will not guarantee payment for El Chapo's lawyers

A US judge has refused to rule out the possibility that the defense lawyers looking to represent Mexico's most famous drug lord, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, could see their legal fees seized, a tactic previously wielded by US authorities attempting to secure the cooperation of high-profile defendants.

At an August 14 hearing, US federal judge Brian Cogan told the lawyers that they would have to assume the risk that the state might seize money earned as payment for their services if they go on to represent the Sinaloa Cartel leader, the Associated Press reported.

On August 8, the New York Times reported that El Chapo had ceased working with the public defenders he was provided and had instead hired private lawyers including Jeffrey Lichtman, most famous for successfully defending John "Junior" Gotti, the son of a New York crime boss. 

However, Lichtman had not yet submitted his official notice of appearance due to the concerns regarding payment. His prospective defense team includes the lawyer who represented Guzmán rival Alfredo Beltrán Leyva.

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile

The lawyers that El Chapo wants to bring into his defense team are reportedly seeking assurances that the US government will not at any point seize their earnings under allegations that they could be linked to drug money. The US government is hoping to seize up to $14 billion in criminal assets as part of the case against El Chapo.

Guzmán was extradited to the United States in January 2017. He is set to stand trial in April 2018. 

InSight Crime Analysis 

The US judge's decision reflects a tactic used in the past by US authorities to put pressure on lawyers defending high-profile criminals: If they do not convince their client to cooperate, their payment funds may be targeted.

One example is that of former Medellín Cartel member Fabio Ochoa Vásquez, who was convicted by US authorities in 2003 on drug trafficking charges after pleading innocent and going to trial. Ochoa was defended by US attorney Roy Black, who in 2001 hired lawyer Benedict Kuehne to vet some $5.2 million in legal fees paid by Ochoa. Kuehne confirmed the money was from "legitimate sources," but prosecutors later accused Kuehne of money laundering for approving the $5.2 million in legal fees, an investigation that was later dropped.

SEE ALSOCoverage of Extradition

It remains to be seen if El Chapo will collaborate with US authorities by providing information on the Sinaloa Cartel and its rivals. So far, he has pleaded not guilty. But it is very common for organized crime defendants facing similar charges to strike plea bargains with prosecutors in order to lighten their potential sentences. The court's refusal to guarantee the security of the lawyers' fees in the El Chapo case could be intended to encourage his legal team to encourage him to make a deal.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
Prev Next

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

Venezuela Prisons: 'Pranes' and 'Revolutionary' Criminality

In May 2011, a 26-year-old prison gang leader held 4,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces, backed by tanks and helicopters, at bay for weeks. Humiliated nationally and internationally, it pushed President Hugo Chávez into a different and disastrous approach to the prison system.