Nakoula Basseley Nakoula's aliases duped many, prosecutor says
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind "Innocence of Muslims," the anti-Islamic film that sparked violence in the Middle East and North Africa, used aliases to deceive people into working on the movie without realizing he was a convicted felon, a prosecutor says.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Dugdale said in federal court Thursday that Nakoula had applied for a passport in one name, obtained a driver’s license under another and used a third name -- which he spelled various ways -– while working on the film.
Dugdale said another mystery was Nakoula’s access to money, citing witnesses who received checks from the man for their work on the film. Using the name Sam Bacile, he previously told the Associated Press the film was financed with $5 million from wealthy Jewish donors -– a figure experts said was hard to believe given the quality of the production.
An actor who appeared in the movie has previously told The Times he was paid $75 a day in checks drawn on the bank account of Abanob Basseley Nakoula -– a name linked to the Cerritos property where Nakoula resides.
He was arrested Thursday and ordered back to jail during an unusual hearing. The hearing occurred amid high security, with the public allowed to watch only via a video feed in a separate courthouse blocks away.
Before his arrest Thursday, Nakoula and his family had been in hiding, and his attorney said he had received threats to his safety. Magistrate Judge Suzanne H. Segal ordered Nakoula detained, citing a “lengthy pattern of deception” by the man, adding that he poses “some danger to the community.”
Nakoula, who was on supervised release from a 2010 conviction for bank fraud, faces eight charges of probation violation, including making false statements to authorities about the film.
When probation officials questioned him about the video, Nakoula allegedly claimed his role was limited to writing the script, and denied ever using the name “Sam Bacile” in connection to the film, Dugdale said.
Dugdale said there is evidence Nakoula’s role in making “Innocence of Muslims” was “much more expansive” than penning the script. Prosecutors said Nakoula could face new criminal charges for lying to federal officials.
Dugdale said none of the violations Nakoula is accused of relate to use of the Internet, even though his probation terms specify he was not permitted to possess or use a device with access to the Internet without permission from his supervisor.
A trailer for the film uploaded on YouTube outraged Muslims the world over and has become the centerpiece of a debate over the clash between free speech and hate speech. Arab leaders called on the U.S. to ban anti-Islam insults, while President Obama defended 1st Amendment protections for such speech even as he criticized the video as crude and offensive.
At Thursday’s hearing, Segal asked the man who went into hiding after the uproar over his film if his true name was Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. The man replied that he had legally changed his name to Mark Basseley Youssef in 2002.
Nakoula’s attorney, Steven Seiden, asked that his client be released on $10,000 bond, saying that he was not a flight risk. He also said his client would be in danger at the downtown Metropolitan Detention Center because of what he said was a large Muslim population at the lockup.
Prosecutors told Segal they have been assured that the detention center has protocols to house “inmates of notoriety,” and contended that Nakoula would possibly be safer in custody.
They said Nakoula was a man who “simply cannot be trusted” and whose deceptions had caused “real harm.”
Segal said Nakoula had failed to prove he wasn’t a flight risk. She said she was satisfied the security issue had been addressed by the Bureau of Prisons.
-- Victoria Kim