Producer of anti-Islam film arrested, ordered held without bail

From Stan Wilson

CNN

LOS ANGELES (CNN) — Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man allegedly behind the inflammatory film “Innocence of Muslims,” was ordered held without bail Thursday after being arrested in California and accused of violating his probation.

“He engaged in a likely pattern of deception both to his probation officers and the court,” Judge Suzanne Segal said in issuing her ruling.

The preliminary bail hearing began with Segal asking the defendant — dressed in gray slacks and a white and yellow striped T-shirt, with handcuffs and chain around his waist — what his true name was.

“Mark Basseley Yousseff,” he replied.

The judge then asked again, what is your name?

“Mark Basseley,” he said this time, again without spelling the name out. He has used at least 17 false names, according to court documents, but is mostly referred to as Nakoula.

An attorney for the man then argued for $10,000 bail.

Attorney Steve Seiden said his client had always maintained contact, in person and by telephone, with probation officers who have been monitoring him since his 2010 bank fraud conviction. But the main reason Nakoula shouldn’t be jailed, his lawyer argued, was for safety reasons, saying the anti-Islam film would make him a target of fellow inmates.

“It is a danger for him to remain in custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles because there are a large number of Muslims in there,” Seiden said. “We are extremely concerned about his safety.”

Making no mention of aliases, the lawyer added that Nakoula had made no attempt to flee Southern California and never would.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugdale told the judge that the man — whom he referred to as Nakoula or Bassil — had engaged in a “pattern of deception” and “a person who cannot be trusted.”

Dugdale pointed to a probation report citing eight allegations in which Nakoula had allegedly violated his probation. One of those was a requirement not to use aliases without permission from his probation officer, something the prosecutor said Nakoula did on at least three instances: during his fraud case, when he tried to get a passport in 2011 and during the making of the film. Dugdale said Nakoula had deceived the cast of the film as well as his probation officers.

The prosecutor also noted that Nakoula was able to afford to make payments during the making of the film, saying it further raised concerns about the possibility of him fleeing the area while the legal case against him proceeds.

“He poses a flight risk and poses a danger to others,” Dugdale said, alluding to the probation report’s recommendation that Nakoula be sentenced to 24 months in prison.

The prosecutor added that he had received assurances from the Metropolitan Detention Center that Nakoula would be placed in protective custody if he was ordered jailed, meaning he would not have contact with other inmates.

The judge, who ordered a future identity hearing to determine the defendant’s actual name, cited the many instances in which he misrepresented his name. She also noted his “unstable” residence and work history, referring to the film project, as also among the reasons for denying him bail.

When asked if he understood the nature of the hearing, Nakoula answered, “Yes.”

The judge then waived his right to a preliminary hearing and left open a future date for a revocation hearing. Immediately following Thursday’s hearing, Nakoula was escorted away by the U.S. Marshals Service in a three-car caravan and driven two blocks to the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Earlier this month, Nakoula met with a probation officer in the wake of a federal review of his five-year supervised probation in the 2010 case.

Nakoula was cooperative at that voluntary interview, authorities said. He was bundled up in a coat, hat and white scarf when he was escorted from his house for that interview. He wasn’t under arrest at that time.

Having served one year in federal prison at Lompoc, California, officials couldn’t determine this month whether Nakoula paid any of the court-ordered restitution of $794,700, according to probation department officials and court records.

While on probation, Nakoula was prohibited from using aliases as well as accessing computers or any device that can access the Internet without approval from his probation officer.

He came to the world’s attention after his movie, a trailer of which had been posted to YouTube, was highlighted this month by media in Egypt. Violent protests subsequently erupted in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories, with some of them targeting U.S. diplomatic missions.

On Friday, a Chechen court ruled the film to be extremist and banned it in the Russian republic, according to information minister Murat Tagiyev.

The film has potential to inflame sectarian hatred and may cause “destabilization of the political situation in the region, most of whose population is Muslim,” he said.

As the protests raged, Nakoula remained out of public view and ensconced with his family in their home in Cerritos, California, southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

When news of his movie first broke, the filmmaker identified himself as Sam Bacile and told The Wall Street Journal he was a 52-year-old Israeli-American real estate developer from California. He said Jewish donors had financed his film.

But Israel’s Foreign Ministry said there was no record of a Sam Bacile with Israeli citizenship.

A production staff member who worked on the film in its initial stages told CNN that a different name was filed on the paperwork for the Screen Actors Guild: Abenob Nakoula Bassely. A public records search showed an Abanob B. Nakoula residing at the same address as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

Another staffer who worked on the film said he knew the producer as Sam Bassil. That’s how he signed a personal check to pay staff.

CNN’s Miguel Marquez, Michael Martinez and Alla Eshchenko contributed to this report.

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