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El Chapo attorney has possible conflict of interest in trial of accused Mexican drug lord

El Chapo attorney has possible conflict of interest in trial of accused Mexican drug lord

The new defense team of alleged drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzmán could face a legal hurdle to represent him in Federal court. Univision Newshas learned that his attorney Jeffrey Lichtman previously represented a potential key witness in Guzmán's trial.

El Chapo attorney is possible conflict of interest in trial of accused Mexican drug lord Univision

It emerged this week that celebrated New York criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman was picked by accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzmán to represent him in the drug trafficking case he faces in a Brooklyn court.

After spending hours with Guzmán in jail, he says his client is charming in person. "We connected, I liked him a lot from the first moment I met him. We believe in his case," he told Univision in an interview in his office this week.

"He is a very funny, highly intelligent guy with a great memory. He remembers everything, he is like a sponge," he said.

Lichtman achieved fame in 2009 after successfuly defending John Gotti Jr in 2009 mistrial on charges of racketeering and murder. "John was acquitted on a number of charges, found not guilty, and the jury was hung on the rest, and that was considered to be a very big, shocking result in America," Lichtman said.

But Lichtman may have a problem in the Guzmán case. Lichtman previously represented a convicted drug trafficker, Margarito Flores, who together with his identical twin brother, Pedro, could be key witnesses in Guzmán's upcoming trial.

Los mellizos Pedro y Margarito Flores.
Los mellizos Pedro y Margarito Flores.

That has the wives of both men worried.

"Jeffrey Lichtman was retained by my husband. He was his attorney. It's hard because Chapo has people are all over the world, he's such a powerful man," Margarito Flores' wife, Olivia, told Univision's Tifani Roberts. The two wives published a book, "Cartel Wives," in June about their lives and the role of their husbands in Guzmán's downfall. (A Spanish version is coming out next month.)

'Cartel Wives, A true story of deadly decisons, steadfast love, and...
'Cartel Wives, A true story of deadly decisons, steadfast love, and bringing down El Chapo,' by Mia Flores and Olivia Flores. Grand Central Publishing. April 2017.

Experts agree. "The fact that Jeffrey Lichtman has represented witnesses in the case of El Chapo Guzmán represents a great obstacle for him to be able to participate as a lawyer in his trial," said Miami attorney, Jose Quinon.

Lichtman could create a legal firewall in the case by finding another lawyer who is not associated with him to question the Margarito twins, Quinon added, a solution which judges have allowed in the past.

The Margarito twins ran Guzman's cocaine and heroin distribution network from Chicago. Known as 'Los Mellizos,' they worked as DEA informants agaist Guzmán and are both serving jail sentences.

"Anything regarding conflict of interest will be brought to the judge in due time," said Lichtman, who played down the issue. "We all have conflicts one way or another, it does not mean they are not waveable conflicts."

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Before his arrest Guzmán was the world's most wanted drug trafficker with a storied past in the drug trade which is the subject of a Univision TV series.

Although he has met with Guzmán numerous times in jail and has spent more than 100 hours with him, Lichtman said he has not legally registered his representation of the drug lord yet and has not had a chance to properly study all the evidence and evaluate the potential witness list.

The conflict of interest could come up in court at a hearing as soon as Monday, along with another thorny legal issue: authorization of payments by Guzmán to his attorneys from the trafficker's tainted assets.

They grew up in Chicago and their husbands, the Flores twins (aka ‘Los Mellizos’), worked for the Sinaloa cartel. The twins later became DEA informants in Mexico who helped bring down El Chapo Guzman. They have written a book, Cartel Wives, telling their story as a lesson to others not to fall for the narco life, and they regret what they put their families through. "Our fathers put on their suit of armor and their badge, and they are going out there on the streets of Chicago,” Mia confesses. “It’s the very same streets that our husbands were flooding with drugs.”
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