CHICAGO (STMW) -- It's more than a year since Mexican authorities caught Chicago's "Public Enemy No. 1."
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, whose powerful Sinaloa cartel supplies the majority of the cocaine and heroin that fuels much of the Second City's gun violence, was nabbed in the Mexican resort town of Mazatlan without a single shot being fired.
Or was he?
If you're among the sizable group of conspiracy theorists who believe that — just like Elvis, Jimmy Hoffa and Tupac — "El Chapo" still walks among us, a new movie might fuel your paranoia.
"Es El Chapo?," which translates to "Is It El Chapo?" was set for its Chicago premiere Friday.
Filmmaker Charlie Minn's movie is based on the premise that the man captured in a cheap hotel room Feb. 22 last year, then paraded in front of cameras by Mexican authorities as he was frogmarched into a military helicopter, was not Guzman.
Or if it was, he was in on a scam with his captors, "and they let him go almost immediately," Minn said recently as he hyped his movie.
"Some people even think he's never existed, that he's a 'ghost,'" Minn added, dramatically.
While Minn admits that he uncovered no new evidence during a week of filming in Sinaloa last year that Guzman is not in Mexican custody, as both the Mexican and the U.S government insist, he cited Mexican authorities' 2010 claim to have killed the leader of the La Familia Michoacan cartel, Nazario "El Chayo" Moreno Gonzalez, only for "El Chayo" to be killed "again" in a 2014 gun battle, as grounds for doubt about Guzman's capture.
His skepticism will be familiar to many in Chicago, where the myth of "El Chapo" looms large.
Dubbed the city's first "Public Enemy No. 1″ since Al Capone by the Chicago Crime Commission before his capture, Guzman used Chicago as a national distribution hub to help him become a billionaire. He's blamed for tens of thousands of deaths in Mexico.
Chicago attorneys, activists, academics and law enforcement all say they've repeatedly heard the same stories: That the man Mexican authorities captured didn't look like El Chapo; that he traveled with an army of bodyguards and wouldn't have gone down without a fight; that he wouldn't stay in a cheap hotel; and that, above all, he knows too much about Mexican political corruption to stay caught; after all — hadn't he escaped from prison before?
Indeed, fears that Chicago gang members could cause problems at a screening of "Es El Chapo?" figured earlier this month in the decision of theater managers to cancel screenings of the film at Regal City North. Though Regal issued a statement denying gang problems at the theater, an email sent to Minn by the chain's vide president of film cited "concern over potential gang activity."
Criminal defense attorney Joseph "The Shark" Lopez — who has represented cartel connected dealers and street-level felons — said that while he has no doubts that authorities have the real Guzman, few of his clients agree.
"They all think he's hiding somewhere in Mexico," Lopez said. "They think he'd reveal too many things about the Mexican government if he was caught."
"It's not just criminals. I've heard lawyers here in the U.S. who don't believe it's him."
Little Village activist Raul Montes Jr. said that many in his community are doubters, too. "I think it's plastic surgery," he said. "I'd be willing to bet on it."
Professor Emilio Kouri of the University of Chicago's Katz Center for Mexican studies said the "long history of obfuscation when it comes to the criminal justice system in Mexico means that the general population there and in the U.S. is extremely skeptical."
When allied with the circumstances of Guzman's capture, the "mythology of the big cartels and El Chapo, above all," there is a "potent situation for storytelling" and a "corrosive" belief that "anything can be staged" he said.
"People have consistently been lied to — there's a lack of trust and a history of twisting the truth, so that there's some basis for doubt, even though in this case it is probably not justified and sounds absurd."
U.S. authorities certainly scoff at the stories, pointing to the clear resemblance between earlier mugshots of Guzman and the pictures circulated around the world of his arrest.
"A picture tells a thousand words," said a source who was closely involved in the joint U.S.-Mexican operation against the Sinaloa cartel, but who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss his work in public.
"It's clearly him," the source added, though he acknowledged: "There's a certain portion of the American public that believes in conspiracy theories and which thinks that if the U.S. government says something, it isn't true."
And given Guzman's largesse to sections of the Mexican public, many there see him as a larger than life "Robin Hood" figure and are predisposed to prefer the myth to the truth in his case, the source said.
"But the truth is the truth."
Anyone who doubts that can see "Es El Chapo?" at The Patio theater, 6008 W. Irving Park Rd., in Portage Park. It starts a week-long run there on Friday.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2015. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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