Sean Penn’s new real-life role as investigative reporter could land him in trouble with both Mexican drug runners and the DEA, experts say.
Rolling Stone magazine ran the actor’s interview with one of the world’s most wanted fugitives, drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, two days day after El Chapo was apprehended by Mexican law enforcement.
“Depending on what the cartels and/or the many corrupt Mexican cops and Mexican government officials believe El Chapo divulged during the interview, Penn, and whomever else was present, may be in more physical danger than he could ever imagine,” said Michael Levine, a 25-year DEA veteran and author of the bestseller “Deep Cover, Mexican Government Drug Corruption from the Inside.”
“He poked his head into a nest of vipers with an amazing global reach,” Levine added. “He was a fool. As public as Penn is he will be a sitting duck.”
Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez said Friday that El Chapo's dealings with Hollywood types helped them nab the fugitive.
"Another important lead that allowed us to locate him, was the discovery that Guzman intended to make a movie about his life," Gomez said. "To that end, he established communication with actresses and producers ... In fact, the surveillance allowed us to document the meetings between these people his (Chapo's) lawyers."
A law enforcement official told FOX411 that not only could Penn be in danger, so could his family.
“It won’t happen now. They (the Cartel) wait,” the insider said. “Him or people close to him are in danger. They don’t single out the one person. They go for the person’s family.”
But El Chapo’s cohorts may not be Penn’s only worry going forward. A former federal agent old FOX411 that there is “enough to bring charges against Penn depending on how authorities could articulate that he had hid the location of a fugitive, knowing that El Chapo is a national security threat to the U.S."
The ex-agent explained that "because Hollywood is not considered press, they don't get the same rights as a reporter. So Penn is not protected the same as a member of the press. The charges could be aiding and abetting/accessory to a fugitive.”
Levine agreed that Penn could be in hot water. “Penn, depending on facts that I am unaware of, is certainly in grave danger of being busted by both DEA and/or the Mexican government,” he said.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is indeed leading a federal probe over Penn's ties to El Chapo, and prosecutors are seeking a subpoena to search his cell phone, the NY Post reports.
But criminal defense lawyer David Houston says it will be difficult to charge Penn with anything.
“He’s only liable if he did something that actually assisted him (El Chapo). Giving someone food, shelter, money anything that would sponsor their continued flight would represent as a problem,” Houston said. “The question is whether or not having knowledge is sufficient to constitute a criminal charge. Naturally, if he had done anything to facilitate the interview that could be characterized as assisting the individual in his attempts to avoid law enforcement he could have a problem.”
Mike Baker, former covert operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency and President of Diligence, doubts Penn is on the El Chapo hit list, but thinks the actor was dumb for pulling the stunt.
“Guzman is responsible literally for the deaths of thousands of Mexicans and for the countless deaths and suffering of U.S. citizens and others around the globe through his command of a significant part of the global drug trade. He was a wanted fugitive, and Penn and Rolling Stone ignore all that in the name of what? Producing a piece of pseudo journalistic crap that glamorizes Guzman, airs Guzman's opinions, panders to this murdering, disgusting bit of filth? It's hard to get your head around the naïveté and self-righteousness of someone like Penn.”
Robert Stutman, former special agent in charge of the New York Field Division and President of the Stutman Group, says he was once targeted for assassination by the Colombian cartel. He thinks the filmmaker will be all right as long as the Cartel’s “machismo” was not insulted in any way.
“I had a contract on my head from Pablo Escobar’s people for 19 months. It was a half million dollar contract on me," he said. "They thought I did something to insult their machismo. The ego always gets these guys. This episode proves it once again. We took all kind of precautions but if they want to kill you, they will kill you.”
FOX411 reached out to the DEA but did not receive comment. The U.S. Attorney's office had no comment. Penn's rep said the actor is not commenting at this time.