How Sean Penn's Meeting Led Authorities to El Chapo: 'They Thought They Were Being Clever, They Weren't'
A source tells PEOPLE Penn's interview "created openings to explore, breadcrumbs to follow"
Sean Penn‘s bombshell Rolling Stone interview with Mexican drug cartel leader El Chapo was one of the “avenues of opportunity” that lead to the criminal’s recapture nearly seven months after his escape from prison, an American official with knowledge of the investigation tells PEOPLE.
Joaquén “El Chapo” Guzmén Loera was interviewed by Penn for the magazine back in October, while he was still in hiding from authorities. An anonymous Mexican authority told the Associated Press on Sunday that Guzmén was tracked down because of the Oscar-winner’s jungle meeting and the criminal’s efforts to make a biopic of his own life. However, that does not mean that Penn was working with authorities.
“The movie and Sean Penn were not part of a scheme designed to catch Chapo,” the source clarifies. “The process those people put in motion though opened up opportunities to be exploited. It created openings to explore, breadcrumbs to follow.”
Penn met with Guzmén only once in-person during the series of interviews, he wrote in Rolling Stone.
“They thought they were clever,” the source says of Guzmén and the people who helped him organize the meeting with Penn. “They weren’t. They were amateurs trying to beat the pros on the pros’ turf.”
Several Hollywood production companies also reportedly notified U.S. officials that they were working on Guzmén’s film – at least one of which was in contact with the fugitive’s associates, according to NBC News.
“The movie and Rolling Stone were avenues of opportunity,” the source explains to PEOPLE. Guzmén “took risks” and put himself into a position that ultimately “lead to his downfall.”
Penn has since faced backlash from journalists who say that the actor’s piece obscured Guzmén’s history as a violent drug trafficker.
The raid of Guzmén’s residence was, according to Mexican authorities, the work of six months of investigation. It resulted in a violent gun battle and left five suspects dead and six others arrested.
Mexican authorities previously said that they had planned a raid on Guzmén in October, but canceled it when they saw he was with women and children on his compound.
The source concludes, “There was a lot of inter-agency cooperation on this.”