Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as drug kingpin “El Chapo,” has traded in his court-appointed public defenders for private legal representation. His newly-retained legal team is comprised of two attorneys who defended John Gotti, Jr. Their representation 12 years ago was effective in keeping the namesake of a reputed New York mobster out of prison. Jeffrey Lichtman and Marc Fernich, along with Eduardo Balarezo and William Purpura, will, now, defend the notorious Mexican drug lord.

Federal prosecutors in New York filed a 17-count indictment against Guzmán in January.

The U.S. government contends the linchpin of the Sinaloa cartel smuggled drugs into the U.S. and is responsible for thousands of killings related to drug trafficking. The drugs that 60-year-old Guzmán is accused of trafficking include cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin.

Life in prison awaits ‘El Chapo’ if convicted of federal charges

After his 2015 prison escape and a deadly shootout with marines in Mexico, Guzmán was recaptured in Los Mochis, Sinaloa on January 8, 2016. He was extradited to the U.S. and arrived in New York on January 19, 2017. If U.S. federal prosecutors prevail, and Guzmán is convicted, he could face a lifetime of imprisonment. The government purportedly has over forty witnesses who will provide testimony against him.

Lichtman’s goal is to vigorously defend his client. His aim is challenging criminals who are cooperating with the government in its prosecution and who are endeavoring to use Guzmán as “get out of jail free cards,” Lichtman said, according to the Guardian (UK).

U.S. prosecutors claim Sinaloa cartel criminal enterprise netted $14 billion laundered to Mexico

The federal indictment in New York spans from 1989 to 2014. In addition to the accusation that the drug kingpin ran a criminal enterprise that imported and distributed narcotics and conspired for rivals to be murdered, he is alleged to have committed firearm violations.

Prosecutors also assert that he laundered $14 billion from the sale of narcotics.

There are six indictments against Guzmán throughout the U.S. The indictments are embroidered with the accusations of drug trafficking and laundering residual profits to Mexico. Lichtman conveyed to the New York Times that his client has been convicted “in the court of public opinion,” yet that doesn’t equate with guilt respective of the criminal charges leveled against him.

Lichtman described his client’s prison conditions as “horrific” since the time his client has been confined in the U.S. following his extradition to New York from Mexico. According to the Times, he said his client is “still a human being” and that Guzmán “still deserves his rights.” He stated that Guantanamo Bay terrorists “have it easier” than does Guzmán, who is locked up in a solitary wing of the federal jail in Manhattan.

New defense team seeks legal assurance fees will be paid

Guzmán and Lichtman have met several times, but Lichtman hasn’t “filed an official notice of appearance” in Brooklyn’s Federal District Court, the Times noted. While the attorney is concerned about his client, who is in confinement, he is also focused on getting paid if the government’s asset forfeiture claim renders Guzmán financially impoverished. The government wants to seize alleged drug profits amounting to $14 billion. Lichtman and his defense team want assurance that their legal fees will not be married to the government’s forfeiture goal.

In federal court following his extradition to the United States, Guzmán answered the government’s federal weapons and drug charges with a not guilty plea.