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El Chapo interview with Sean Penn should be kept out of drug trafficking trial, prosecutors say

Sean Penn's interview offered a "misleading" picture of el Chapo, prosecutors said.

Actor and author Sean Penn at Barnes &

Actor and author Sean Penn at Barnes & Noble Union Square in Manhattan on March 28. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Michael Loccisano

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn want to keep Sean Penn out of the upcoming trial of Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman on cocaine trafficking charges in Brooklyn federal court.

In a motion Tuesday they asked U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan to prohibit the defense from making any references to Penn’s interview with Guzman, a Rolling Stone article and other media appearances painting the accused drug kingpin in a sympathetic light.

The actor, prosecutors said, gave a “misleading” picture of Guzman as “the true president of Mexico,” a “Robin Hood like figure” and a “humble rural Mexican,” and portrayed Americans as complicit in corruption of Mexican institutions that Guzman triggered.

The defense may use Penn “to try to minimize the defendant’s conduct, provide alternate explanations for his motives or for other purposes,” prosecutors said. “The Court should preclude any attempt to elicit such references or make argument based on this extraneous reporting as irrelevant and unduly prejudicial, confusing and misleading.”

Guzman, 60, was extradited from Mexico last year. At a trial scheduled to begin on Sept. 5 he will face charges that as head of the Sinaloa cartel he used intimidation and violence to run a massive trafficking operation from 1989 to 2014 that shipped 20 tons of cocaine into the United States.

He escaped twice from prison in Mexico, and his clandestine interview with Penn while he was on the run in 2015 helped burnish his reputation as a larger-than-life character.

Prosecutors on Tuesday also asked Cogan to let them put in a wide range of evidence about Guzman’s use of violence and kidnappings and his drug activities in prison. They also want to use segments of an interview Guzman videotaped while he was a fugitive in 2015 — but to block the defense from using any segments that it thought were favorable.

As a technical matter, the government said, prosecutors are allowed to put in inculpatory materials as an “admission,” but when the defendant tries to put in his own words without facing cross examination it is inadmissible hearsay.

Among the segments prosecutors want kept out: “Irrelevant” descriptions of Guzman’s upbringing that are “designed to evoke sympathy,” false claims that he was not part of a cartel and never initiated violence, and discussions about whether his “final days would be like that of Pablo Escobar.”

Prosecutors called those segments “speculative, irrelevant, misleading and, at times, politically motivated and unduly prejudicial to the government.”

Eduardo Balarezo, Guzman’s lawyer, said he was reviewing the filing, and added, “Mr. Guzman deserves a fair trial like any other defendant.”


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