Drug Kingpin's Downfall: Sean Penn

An interview, movie project tipped Mexican authorities off to Joaquin Guzman's location
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 10, 2016 8:05 AM CST

"My head is swimming, labeling TracPhones (burners), one per contact, one per day, destroy, burn, buy, balancing levels of encryption," begins the just-released and already-controversial interview in Rolling Stone. The writer is Sean Penn, and his subject is as unlikely as he is sought-after: Joaquin Guzman—known equally as El Chapo, Mexico's top drug kingpin, prison escapee extraordinaire—who was just recaptured Friday. Guzman's downfall, the AP reports, came about courtesy of that September interview after authorities were able to track him to rural Durango state; a law enforcement official tells the AP that officials held their fire at the time because Guzman was with two women and a child, but that they later tracked him to the house in Los Mochis where he was nabbed. The reason for the Penn interview was a bit of vanity: A movie about his life. Highlights of the fascinating story:

  • Penn had a co-interviewer, Kate del Castillo, whom the New York Times describes as "a Mexican actress who once played a drug kingpin in the soap opera." Guzman wanted del Castillo involved in the movie, writes Penn. "He was interested in seeing the story of his life told on film, but would entrust its telling only to Kate."
  • The ethical and legal ramifications of the article are still up in the air, notes the Times: Rolling Stone changed certain names and didn't disclose certain locations; it agreed to submit the story to Guzman for approval. A Mexican official said late Saturday that everyone who met with Guzman is under investigation, Penn included, though whether they'll face consequences or whether officials are more interested in the content of the discussions isn't clear.
  • Sample reaction, via Marco Rubio, speaking Sunday on ABC News: "If one of these American actors who have benefited from the greatness of this country ... want to go fawn all over a criminal and a drug trafficker in their interviews, they have a Constitutional right to do it. I find it grotesque."
Penn's full interview is here. (More Sean Penn stories.)

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