Lawyers seeking to represent notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman have been told there is no guarantee they will be paid if they take the case.
A US district judge has warned the attorneys that any money they earn could later be seized if prosecutors can prove the cash came from the kingpin’s estimated profits of $14bn (£10.8bn).
But in a further complication, prosecutors have argued that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for El Chapo’s defence – leaving his legal team in limbo.
Lawyers remain hopeful they will find a way to represent 60-year-old Guzman.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges his Sinaloa cartel laundered billions of dollars and oversaw a ruthless campaign of murders and kidnappings.
One attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, said: “We are looking forward, desperately, to come into this case and fight for Joaquin Guzman.
“This guy has a constitutional right to the best counsel he can get.”
Mr Lichtman is known for successfully defending John “Junior” Gotti, whose father was the boss of an organised crime family in New York City.
The lawyer, who has met with Guzman on a weekly basis, told the Associated Press news agency: “He is charming, funny, highly intelligent.
“I enjoyed getting to know him… I don’t judge someone by what I read in the papers.”
Guzman’s defence has claimed he is being held in inhumane and overly restrictive conditions at a high-security jail in Manhattan that is known for housing alleged mobsters and terrorists.
However, the government has argued his strict jail conditions befit someone who escaped from prison twice in Mexico – including once through a tunnel dug to the shower in his cell.
Prosecutors have alleged that Guzman used coded messages and bribes to control his cartel and orchestrate breakouts during his time behind bars in Mexico.