El Chapo Returns to Eastern District Court for Hearing on Potential Conflict of Interest

 Joaquin Guzmán (center in blue), known as El Chapo, waves to his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro (right) while Andrea Goldbarg (left) and U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan look on. //  Eagle c ourt sketch by Shirley and Andrea Shepard

Joaquin Guzmán (center in blue), known as El Chapo, waves to his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro (right) while Andrea Goldbarg (left) and U.S. District Court Judge Brian Cogan look on. // Eagle court sketch by Shirley and Andrea Shepard

By Rob Abruzzese

Joaquin Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as the alleged drug kingpin El Chapo, is scheduled to be back in Eastern District court Wednesday, as the parties have requested a Curcio hearing, or a hearing to determine whether a conflict of interest exists regarding representation of the defendant by Jeffrey Lichtman.

Lichtman, who is known for representing John Gotti Jr., the son of Gambino family mobster John Gotti, was hired by El Chapo in August 2017. Gotti Jr.'s case ended in an acquittal of a $25 million securities fraud charge and a deadlocked jury on each of the remaining charges.

Guzmán had been previously represented by public defenders Michael Schneider and Michelle Gelent, with the Federal Defenders of New York.

The two sides also anticipate discussing the trial schedule and the defense has requested that the court discuss its procedure for jury selection, which is expected to be cumbersome, at Thursday’s status conference.

In court filings, prosecutors said that they are concerned that the defense intends to request another adjournment to the trial and have officially opposed any further adjournments. However, since they expect another adjournment of the trial, prosecutors have asked for a two-day adjournment to its deadline to disclose the identities of its cooperating witnesses.

In previous hearings, defense attorneys have insisted that the timeline for the start of the trial is difficult for them because of the massive number of documents that they must review with their client. They have argued that restrictions imposed on their client at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where El Chapo is being held, slow the process too much.

Guzmán is accused of leading the Sinaloa Cartel drug cartel, which flooded Queens — and locations throughout the U.S. — with thousands of kilos of cocaine and heroin. In one bust, authorities seized 1,997 kilos of cocaine linked to the cartel from a warehouse in Queens, according to court documents. The drugs were worth nearly $40 million.