By Brendan Pierson
(Reuters) - Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the captured leader of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, has hired a New York lawyer best known for successfully defending the son of convicted mafia boss John Gotti to represent him in his U.S. criminal case.
The lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, said in an email on Tuesday that Guzman hired him, along with three others: Marc Fernich, who has also represented Gotti's son, John Gotti, Jr; William Purpura, who represented Baltimore drug kingpin Richard Wilford; and Eduardo Balarezo, who represented Alfredo Beltran Leyva, head of another Mexican drug cartel.
Wilford and Beltran Leyva were both convicted and received long prison sentences.
Guzman, 60, is charged with running a massive transnational cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine smuggling operation, playing a key role in Mexico's decade-long drug war that has killed over 100,000 people. He was captured in Mexico in January 2016, six months after escaping from a high-security prison in central Mexico through a tunnel.
Guzman was extradited to the United States on Jan. 19 to face drug, firearms and conspiracy charges that could put him in prison for life if he is convicted. U.S. prosecutors have said they have more than 40 witnesses ready to testify against him.
Lichtman said it was too early to say what his legal strategy might be.
"But we simply hope to have the chance to give Mr. Guzman a zealous defense and the chance to challenge the numerous cooperating criminals who will all be seeking to use him as their Get Out of Jail Free cards," he said.
Guzman's newly hired lawyers have not yet appeared in court. In a letter filed in court on Monday, the public defenders who have been representing Guzman so far said the new lawyers wanted assurances that prosecutors would not try to seize their legal fees. Lichtman said Tuesday that issue had not yet been resolved.
Last week, Guzman's public defenders moved to dismiss the charges on the grounds that he should not have been sent to New York, because Mexican authorities were told he was being arrested on charges filed in California and Texas.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)