The most thankless job in law enforcement is about to get worse.
The U.S. marshals who escort the man believed to be one of the world’s most dangerous drug lords from a jail in Manhattan to a trial in Brooklyn will soon risk their lives without pay.
The armed guards of Joaquín (El Chapo) Guzmán’s personal escort team are among the legion of federal workers who’ll be without a paycheck if the marathon government shutdown extends into Friday.
Thanks to the fees the federal court collects, and other sources of funding, the U.S. court system didn’t close its ornate wooden doors immediately when the shutdown began Dec. 22.
But even that money is expected to dry up before Friday — the date U.S. marshals are expected to get their first biweekly paycheck of the year.
After that, nonessential workers at the 94 federal district courts, and at higher courts across the country, may have to stay home even as skeleton crews show up — also without pay.
The U.S. marshals have had a heavy presence around Guzman’s Brooklyn courtroom for nearly two months. In addition to guarding the accused drug lord — who twice escaped high-security prisons in Mexico — the marshals also personally transport and protect the trial’s 12 anonymous jurors and four alternates.
The marshals — among the 3,600 deputy U.S. marshals to work without pay across the country — also handle the explosive detection dogs assigned to the courthouse for the case.
“While all U.S. Marshals Service employees are critical, only excepted staff like deputy U.S. marshals are authorized and required to conduct official business during a government shutdown,” Drew Wade, a marshals service spokesman said in a statement. “U.S. marshals will continue to protect the court family and other(s).”
David Sellers, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said Friday is not an absolute cutoff, as the federal judiciary has been “delaying or deferring expenses” in an effort to stretch the available funds.
Sellers said the agency might “fine tune their projection as to how long the funds will last, if and when circumstances warrant.”
Many civil cases have already been put postponed, but criminal cases like Guzman’s are among those exempted as “essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property,” and in keeping with the Speedy Trial Act.
Don’t look for federal prosecutors to tide the marshals over. The government lawyers have already been working without pay.
Jurors would continue to serve, but they would not be paid either, officials said.
The partial government shutdown started after President Trump declined to sign any spending bills that did not include $5 billion for the border wall he he promised during his campaign.
Ironically, the charges against Guzman, 61, include building a series of tunnels the Sinaloa cartel allegedly used to smuggle drugs across the border from Mexico.
In April 2017, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) proposed to pay for border security with assets seized from drug traffickers under the “EL CHAPO” Act, an acronym for Ensuring Lawful Collection of Hidden Assets to Provide Order.
The idea never really got off the ground.