Alleged anti-Muslim film producer has drug, fraud convictions
The man believed to be the filmmaker behind the controversial anti-Muslim film that has sparked rioting in the Middle East is a twice-convicted felon who has served time in federal prison.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula of Cerritos was convicted in 1997 of possession of ephedrine and hydriodic acid, materials commonly used to manufacture methamphetamine, according to court records.
Authorities testified that they found $45,000 of cash in a paper bag when they pulled over Nakoula. A deputy testified that Nakoula was transporting pills from a storage facility in Downey to Lake Elsinore.
And in 2010, he was convicted of bank fraud after engaging in a scheme to create fake identities and open credit cards in those names, then draw tens of thousands of dollars from the phony accounts. He was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison but was released early in June 2011.
Nakoula has denied being the filmmaker, according to the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles. Bishop Serapion said Nakoula called him Thursday morning and "denied completely any involvement."
The bishop said Nakoula called the reports of his connection to the film "a political thing" and also suggested that the media might have been confused.
Since an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya on Tuesday that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, Nakoula has been reclusive and has refused to answer the door of the four-bedroom home where he lives.
A man who identified himself as Sam Bacile called the Associated Press and Wall Street Journal on Wednesday and said he had directed and produced the "Innocence of Muslims" film. The AP traced the number back to a phone associated with Nakoula, who denied being Bacile, but acknowledged involvement with the film. Law enforcement sources later told AP that Nakoula and Bacile are the same person.
An actor who appeared in the film told The Times he was paid $75 a day to appear in the film, which had a working title of "Desert Warrior." He was paid by someone with the same middle and last name as Nakoula.
Nakoula has operated under a dizzying array of aliases, including Kritbag Difrat.
He has had numerous financial problems over the years, including state and federal tax liens, according to documents at the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's office in Norwalk.
Most notably, the state Board of Equalization filed a tax lien against a gas station operated by Nakoula in 1996, stating that he owed a total of more than $194,000 in taxes, interest and penalties dating from 1989 to 1992. Assorted other liens call for total payments of nearly $59,000.
Nakoula filed for bankruptcy protection in 2000, owing $166,500 to Bank of America, Washington Mutual and MBNA. His bankruptcy attorney, Ronald Appel of Tustin, said he could not recall the case or Nakoula. The case was terminated in 2004 after Nakoula failed to make payments to creditors according to plan.
-- Ken Bensinger and Jeff Gottlieb