Drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman wants to dump his US public defenders for a quartet of top-flight criminal defense lawyers.
Guzman, one of the world's most notorious criminals who twice escaped prison in his native Mexico, has moved to hire Jeffrey Lichtman, Marc Fernich, Eduardo Balarezo and William Purpura, three of the lawyers confirmed to AFP.
But there is a sticking point: the quartet want a guarantee that US prosecutors will not seize their legal fees as part of the $14 billion forfeiture they are seeking of Guzman's alleged drug profits.
That issue will be discussed at the next court hearing scheduled August 14, which Fernich said the private lawyers would attend only as observers.
"I'll represent him along with the other three provided this fee issue is resolved. I expect that to happen," Fernich told AFP.
"We are confident we see him vindicated provided all these preliminary wrangling works out, we'll fight the case very hard," he said.
Fernich worked with Lichtman to successfully defend John "Junior" Gotti, son of the so-called "Dapper Don" John Gotti Senior at trial in 2005. Gotti escaped conviction in no less than four racketeering trials.
The offices of Purpura, who represented Baltimore drug kingpin Richard Anthony Wilford, and Lichtman also confirmed Guzman's intention to hire the four.
Balarezo represented one of Guzman's rival Mexican traffickers, The New York Times reported.
Guzman, 60, is scheduled to go on trial next April, accused of running the Sinaloa cartel, one of the world's biggest drug empires. He was extradited to New York on January 19, and is being held in solitary confinement.
His publicly funded defenders have worked vigorously on his case for months, challenging the legality of his extradition, demanding the judge drop the case and repeatedly challenging the harsh conditions of his custody.
"We still represent Mr Guzman and we'll still represent him until private lawyers file a notice of appearance," assistant federal defender Michael Schneider said.
Guzman faces a litany of firearms, drug trafficking and conspiracy charges. If convicted, he will likely spend the rest of his life behind US bars.