bureaucracybusters

SCREEN CRIMINALS AND REAL ONES: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law Enforcement on January 19, 2016 at 1:25 am

Actor Sean Penn is used to being a tough guy–onscreen.  

In 2006, he played real-life mobster Mickey Cohen (1913 – 1976) in Gangster Squad.  And in 2013, he played Willie Stark, a corrupt, Huey Long-type Southern governor in a remake of All the King’s Men.

As Cohen, Penn put out contracts on his enemies and even went mano-o-mano in a long-running (and fictional) fistfight with an LAPD detective.

And as Stark, he clawed his way to power and bullied both his enemies and his supporters.

Perhaps Penn should have paid more attention to the way those movies ended.

Sean Penn by Sachyn Mital (cropped).jpg

Sean Penn

Mickey Cohen goes to prison, where he is brutally waylaid by other inmates.

And Willie Stark, at the height of his power, is shot by a longtime enemy.

Had he thought about it, he might have decided it could be a mistake to meet with Joaquin “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzman, the notorious Mexican drug lord.

On October 2, 2015, Penn met with Guzman in an undisclosed location in the Mexican jungle.  He was there to interview him on behalf of Rolling Stone magazine. 

Guzman wanted a movie made about him.  So he had reached out to Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, asking her to meet with him to discuss such a project.  She, in turn, referred him to Penn, whom Guzman said could come along for the meeting.

Penn had his own agenda: To write an article for Rolling Stone whose “purpose [would] contribute to this conversation on the war on drugs.”

Three months later, on January 8, 2016, Mexican Marines and Federal Police launched an early-morning raid on a house in Los Mochis, in northern Sinaloa, where Guzman’s drug cartel operated.

The Marines expected to find Guzman there, and they did–ending his almost six-month flight after escaping from prison in July.  

One day after Guzman’s capture, Rolling Stone published Penn’s 10,000-word article.  

Penn had not been allowed to bring a tape recorder or even take notes with pen and paper.  So he had been forced to memorize as much of Guzman’s tale as he could.

Penn seemed to be enraptured by Guzman:

“There is no doubt this is the real deal. He’s wearing a casual patterned silk shirt, pressed black pants, and he appears remarkably well-groomed and healthy for a man on the run.  

“He opens [actress Kate del Castillo’s] [car} doorand greets her like a daughter returning from college.  

“It seems important to him to express the warm affection in person that, until now, he’d only had occasion to communicate from afar.”  

Even so, Penn quoted Guzman as bragging: “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world.  I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats.”

Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo Guzmán.jpg

 Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman

After the interview’s publication, Penn came under fire for having allowed Guzman to approve the article.  He claimed that, despite this, Guzman had not asked for any changes.  

He also drew sharp criticism for having used his status as a movie star to play the part of a reporter.  

But worse was to come.  

Shortly after the capture of “El Chapo,” Mexico’s Attorney General Arely Gomez “credited” Penn with having played a vital role in the capture of the drug kingpin.  

The meeting between Penn, Castillo and Guzman “was an essential element, because we were following [Guzman’s] lawyer, and the lawyer took us to these people and to this meeting.”  

Suddenly, American experts on Mexican organized crime cartels began seeing Sean Penn in a new light–that of a movie star with a big target on his chest and back.

Suppose Guzman began suspecting that Penn had deliberately led Mexican authorities to him?  Or that he had done so even accidentally, through negligence in how he had traveled?

“These cartels are very violent, they do not forgive any transgression and they will respond in a most violent manner,” said Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“These are people who have been dismembered, who have decapitated individuals.  So killing Sean Penn and del Castillo means absolutely nothing to them.”

Vigil believed it was careless for the Mexican Government to publicize any ties between the Penn meeting and Guzman’s arrest:

“If Chapo Guzman perceives that they cooperated with authorities in his capture, [the cartel] will go after them.”

He argued that the risk is likely likely for del Castillo because she was the one in contact with Guzman.

She was the one whom Guzman’s associates supplied with a Blackberry–the phone they believed most secure.  And it was her and Guzman’s flirtatious exchanges that led to the meeting in the jungle with Sean Pean.

“Apart from that, [del Castillo] is originally from Mexico, she has all of her family in Mexico.  One of the traditional violent methods [the cartels] use is if they can’t get to the target, they’ll go after their family members.

“If I were Kate del Castillo, I would run like the wind.”

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