Mexican actress Kate del Castillo made the introductions between drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and actor Sean Penn that may have helped lead to El Chapo’s capture. Now some experts say that introduction may have introduced danger into the lives of del Castillo and her family.
Del Castillo is one of the biggest actresses in Mexico. Her father is well-known actor/director Eric del Castillo, and her sister, Veronica, is a TV personality who counts Eva Longoria as a friend.
Michael Levine is a 25-year DEA veteran and author of “Deep Cover: Mexican Government Drug Corruption from the Inside,” who went undercover in Mexico as an American mafia don in the 1980s. He told FOX411 that del Castillo and Penn were foolish get mixed up with El Chapo and his world.
“The problem with dealing with someone like Guzman on this personal basis, where one is perceived as a ‘friend’ or an aid, or a business partner of sorts to Chapo, is that you have to be prepared to inherit all his enemies, and there are many,” Levine said. “These are some very kill-crazy people.”
“I have dealt with them face-to-face with them believing I was one of them. The notoriety gained by killing someone like Penn or even del Castillo will actually turn these bastards on,” Levine said. “It's a step into the dark world of the kill-crazies. Believe me it is there, and unwittingly these two may have stepped into a world where there is an actual competition to kill them. I sincerely hope I am proven wrong, but after 25 years of deep cover work in that world, pessimism is a blessed virtue.”
Mike Baker, former covert operations officer with the Central Intelligence Agency and president of Diligence, private intelligence and security firm, said del Castillo has more on the line than Penn, but doubts she is in danger.
“While I don't think it likely, if the cartel were to somehow target those involved in setting up and conducting the interview, del Castillo is certainly more at risk than Penn, given that she spends more time in Mexico than Penn, has family there, business associates there,” Baker said. “But, as with Penn, I doubt the cartel would blame Castillo given that it was reportedly Guzman who reached out to her to start the ball rolling on looking to produce his life story.”
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The actress wrote a Twitter message to El Chapo in 2012 urging the drug lord to use his influence for good rather than evil. “Mr. Chapo, wouldn't it be padre if you would start trafficking for good? With cures for diseases, with food for kids on the street."
According to Penn’s Rolling Stone piece, del Castillo’s message was seen by Guzman and one of his associates tried to send her flowers which never reached her. Years later, El Chapo successfully contacted her for assistance in making a movie about his life.
A former federal agent told us the nature of del Castillo's relationship with El Chapo may work in her favor. “I don’t think she is going to be in danger of the cartels because it was apparently El Chapo who was a huge fan of hers and made it known he wanted to meet her,” the source said, adding egos often trump caution. “Criminal fugitives are usually caught blabbing their mouths, going back home or going after the woman they want or had a relationship with. El Chapo was guilty of all three. However, if it comes out that she was actually working for the government, then she faces real danger from the cartel.”
Even if the Mexican drug cartels don’t care about del Castillo, the source said she could face scrutiny from the courts. “Although the Mexican legal system is highly corrupted, the right judge could make an example out of her,” the insider said.
The U.S. court system may also take an interest.
New York-based defense attorney and former prosecutor Lance Fletcher said del Castillo, "could be investigated for violating 18 U.S.C. § 1952, the Travel Act, which generally prohibits the use of foreign travel for the purpose of promoting an unlawful activity. Although this is often charged in situations where a U.S. corporation or individual travels to bribe a foreign government official, it could also apply to a situation where an American travels internationally to promote unlawful activity, such as to sell drugs. I don’t know if a U.S. Attorney could argue that Penn or Del Castillo’s purpose of traveling was to promote El Chapo’s drug smuggling operations, but maybe the man and his criminal enterprise are one and the same."
Additionally, Fletcher said, "there’s the possibility that she could be charged with obstruction of a criminal investigation under 18 USC § 1510 if it is found that she did anything to hinder the investigation or prosecution of El Chapo, but this would probably also require an affirmative act to assist him such as advice regarding how to avoid capture."
FOX411 reached out to the Southern District of New York who had no comment. Kate del Castillo, who became a U.S. citizen in September 2015, did not comment either, but her sister Veronica released a statement, saying: "With respect to the case of my sister, I know the same as my fellow journalists. I am not familiar with the topic, and only have the information that comes from Rolling Stone magazine. As my sister, I support and love her above all.”
Penn's rep wouldn't comment, but the actor told the Associated Press: “I've got nothin' to hide."