Anti-Islam Filmmaker Denies Parole Violation
A California man linked to an anti-Islam film that stoked violent protests in the Muslim world denied on Wednesday he had violated his probation on a fraud conviction, and was sent back to jail until his case can be heard on its merits.
The Egyptian-born man, who has been known publicly as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, denied in court committing eight probation violations, including lying to officials over the scope his role in the film and using aliases.
A crudely made 13-minute video attributed to the man, who appeared in court on Wednesday under the name Mark Basseley Youssef, was filmed in California and circulated online under several titles including “Innocence of Muslims.”
It portrays the Prophet Mohammad as a fool and a sexual deviant, and sparked a torrent of anti-American unrest in Arab and Muslim countries last month. The violence coincided with a separate attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
As outrage against the film mounted, U.S. authorities said they were not investigating the film itself.
But prosecutors have said they could seek to have Youssef, 55, sent back to prison for up to two years if he is found to have violated his probation on a bank fraud conviction.
Youssef, who was escorted to court by five U.S. Marshals, was ordered held without bail last month and has been staying at a high-rise federal jail in downtown Los Angeles.
Under the terms of his release from prison last year, Youssef was barred from using aliases without the permission of a probation officer and restricted from accessing the Internet. An evidentiary hearing in his probation case was set for Nov. 9.
“It will be interesting to see what the judge does and what the reaction is around the world,” said Stan Goldman, a Loyola Law School professor.
Goldman said attorneys for Youssef could argue the terms of his 2011 release from prison in the bank fraud case did not apply directly to his recent activities, in which people associated with the film have said he misrepresented himself.
“It’s not exactly like an armed robber on probation, getting caught with an automatic weapon in his possession. It’s a little more technical,” Goldman said.
The defendant, who had worked in the gas station industry and most recently lived in a suburb of Los Angeles, declared at the outset of his last hearing that he had changed his name to Mark Basseley Youssef in 2002.
The probation issues were the latest of Youssef’s legal woes. An actress who says she was duped into appearing in the anti-Islam film has sued him over the matter, identifying him as the film’s producer. Cindy Lee Garcia also named YouTube and its parent company Google Inc as defendants in the case.
Google has refused to remove the film from YouTube, despite pressure from the White House and others to take it down, though the company has blocked the trailer in Egypt, Libya and other Muslim countries.