'El Chapo' wants private attorney over public defender

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  Aug. 15, 2017 at 11:33 AM
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Aug. 15 (UPI) -- Accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán has requested that a New York federal court allow him to dismiss his public defender so he can hire a private attorney.

The attorney Guzmán seeks to hire, Jeffrey Lichtman, previously represented the son of organized crime boss John Gotti.

The U.S. government has frozen Guzmán's known assets, alleging the funds were generated through illicit activity. U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan said Monday he would not pressure prosecutors from intervening in Guzmán's attempts to pay for private lawyers.

Guzmán was extradited to the United States from Mexico in January to face 17 criminal charges related to his reputed drug empire -- including corruption, murder, conspiracy, drug trafficking and money laundering.

Cogan granted Guzmán a meeting with one of his family members for Thursday to discuss how to pay the private lawyer. The judge said Guzmán must change attorneys quickly because he won't delay the start of the trial, scheduled for April.

Lichtman told NBC News it would be difficult for Guzmán to pay his fee because the accused drug kingpin is locked down.

"It's very difficult to be ready for an April trial date when we can't come into the case, because he's not even able to meet with his family to arrange our fee," Lichtman said. "This is still America. The man deserves not only his choice of counsel, but also a fair trial."

"El Chapo" -- meaning "The Short One" or "shorty" -- so dubbed because of his 5-foot-6-inch frame, was first captured in Guatemala in 1993. He has twice escaped from prison since that capture.

Guzmán's Sinaloa Cartel is credited with dominating the illegal drug market in nearly the entire United States, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The report states the criminal organization is most powerful "along the West Coast, through the Midwest and into the Northeast."

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