Update: In August 2016, Privé Jets LLC, the private luxury and corporate aviation service mentioned in this article, contacted Fusion to say that it did not receive cash “for this or any transaction” and that the trip was paid for by wire transfer.
Someone shelled out $32,854 in cash for the charter flight that Sean Penn and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo took to meet Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, according to a flight itinerary obtained by Fusion. And Mexico’s attorney general wants to know who picked up the bill.
It’s unclear from the travel document who paid for the flight, or where the money came from. Penn has said the trip was “self-financed.”
Mexican authorities say they’re investigating the details and logistics of the covert meeting as part of a broader probe into any possible business dealings between Guzmán and del Castillo. Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez told daily El Universal in an exclusive interview this week that the government is still trying to verify who paid for the trip.
In an interview with Fusion’s Jorge Ramos on Wednesday, Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, who recently met with del Castillo to write an article about the Chapo meeting, claimed the Mexican government is conducting a smear campaign against the actress.
Representatives for Penn and del Castillo did not respond to Fusion’s repeated requests for comment this week.
The flight itinerary, whose details have been confirmed by Mexico’s civil aviation, shows that a Florida-based charter flight company was hired to fly Penn and his group from Van Nuys, California, to Guadalajara, Mexico on the day of their meeting with the fugitive crime boss. The four members of the group are identified as Penn, del Castillo, Jose Ibañez and Fernando Sulichin. The latter two, movie producers who have worked closely with director Oliver Stone, appear to be referred to by Penn in his Rolling Stone article as “El Alto” and “Espinoza.”
Sulichin did not respond to requests for comment. Fusion wasn’t immediately able to contact Ibañez.
Once in Guadalajara, the group drove to a hotel where they were picked up by one of Chapo’s associates, according to Penn’s account in Rolling Stone. They were then driven to a “dirt airfield” where Chapo’s son, Alfredo Guzmán, helped them aboard two single-engine planes to fly to an undisclosed location for their scheduled meeting with the Sinaloa Cartel drug lord, Penn wrote.
Investigators in Mexico are probing whether del Castillo received any money in connection with Chapo Guzmán’s plans to make a biopic about his life, according to people familiar with the case. Investigators are also trying to determine if the cartel boss invested any money in a tequila company owned by del Castillo, officials say.
Mexican authorities say they have asked the actress to testify.
A $32,854 flight
The travel itinerary obtained by Fusion shows Penn’s group boarded a Hawker 900XP aircraft, model #N288MB, which flew them from the Van Nuys airport in California to the Guadalajara International Airport on Oct. 2, 2015. The plane returned to Van Nuys the next day, according to the travel document.
The itinerary dates coincide with this photograph del Castillo posted to Instagram the first week of October:
The travel dates also seem to coincide with photographs taken of del Castillo and Penn at the Guadalajara airport.
An Instagram picture posted by one of the pilots listed on the itinerary also seems to support aircraft details.
The charter company identified on the document is Privé Jets LLC, a luxury and corporate jet travel firm based in Hallandale, Florida.
Privé Jets reportedly paid a Van Nuys airport fixed-base operator, Clay Lacy Aviation, which handled flight logistics in California and paid another fixed-base operator – ICCS Guadalajara – to handle flight logistics in Mexico.
When reached by phone, Kris Roca, a Clay Lacy employee, confirmed his company was paid in cash by Privé Jets but did not disclose the amount.
Fusion called Privé Jets and spoke to one of the company’s brokers, who confirmed the company received payment in cash for Penn’s charter flight. He said the account executive who handled the flight itinerary no longer works at the company.
Repeated attempts to get further comment from Privé Jets went unanswered.