The US government is worried ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s legal team may have cartel infiltrators

Former Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has pleaded not guilty to the array of charges against him and his next court date is May 5 .

But the legal wrangling around the Mexican capo has not slacked.

In the most recent development, US prosecutors slated to face Guzman in an Eastern District of New York courtroom have asked that US authorities investigate any foreigners added to Guzman’s legal team.

US Attorney Robert Capers and Arthur Wyatt, Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section chief for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, argued that, based on their experience , an unvetted member of the defense team could compromise the case brought by the government.

“If a foreign lawyer or investigator that also was a member of the Sinaloa cartel was united with the defense team, [they] could travel to the United States, review the evidence that is protected, and travel later out of the United States with that knowledge,” Capers and Wyatt wrote in a letter to Eastern District judge Brian Cogan.

“If a member of the cartel traveled to the United States and found out the identity of a cooperating Mexican witness, [they] could later travel to Mexico with this information and give the name of the witness to other members of the Sinaloa cartel who could kidnap or kill the family of that witness,” the letter added .

El Chapo Joaquin GuzmanMexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman arrives at Long Island MacArthur airport in New York, January 19, 2017, after his extradition from Mexico.Reuters

The letter was confirmed to Univision by Jose Refugio Rodriguez, one of three Mexican lawyers who represented Guzman in his home country.

He said that while they are not allowed to act as lawyers on Guzman’s behalf in the US, they had been advising his current legal team and could visit him in the future.

Refugio Rodriguez said it was the right of prosecutors to look into the background of members of the defense team, but he said he took issuewith this specific request as it seemed to cast Guzman’s Mexican lawyers as complicit with the kingpin, which he said violated the presumption of innocence.

El ChapoJoaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s defense attorneys, Michael Schneider and Michelle Gelernt, speak to press outside the federal courthouse in the Brooklyn, New York, January 20, 2017. Reuters / Joe Penney

In their letter, Capers and Wyatt denied that they did not trust Guzman’s Mexican lawyers, but said that in the past ” foreign professionals ,” including lawyers, had used their status to commit crimes and bribe officials.

Guzman’s US lawyers — Michael Schneider and Michelle Gelernt, two court-appointed public defenders — criticized the request as a ” prohibition” on foreigners joining the defense and said the prosecutors’ letter did not offer legal arguments for why “the citizens of other countries are less trustworthy than Americans.”

According to Refugio Rodriguez, Guzman’s US lawyers have already brought a motion against the request, “because lawyers cannot be treated like criminals.”

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