LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The convicted California scam artist behind a crude anti-Islam film that stoked protests against the United States across the Muslim world was sent back to jail for a year on Wednesday over probation violations stemming from his role in the video.
In a tightly guarded federal courtroom in Los Angeles, Mark Basseley Youssef admitted to using aliases and lying to his probation officer, breaching the terms of his supervised release from prison this year after serving time for bank fraud.
Youssef, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian and former gasoline station owner identified in some public records by his birth name, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, has been in protective custody since his arrest in September, his lawyer said.
At least one violation Youssef acknowledged involved his using the alias Sam Bacile, a name several actors and others from the film said he had used in producing the Internet video. It was circulated under several titles, including “Innocence of Muslims.”
In addition to a year in jail, U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder ordered Youssef placed on four years of supervised release once he got out.
The 13-minute clip attributed to Youssef, 55, portrays the Prophet Mohammad as a fool and a sexual deviant, although cast members have said they were duped into appearing in a film they believed was an adventure drama called “Desert Warrior.”
After the fact, actors said they learned that some of their lines spoken in the production had been dubbed over.
At least one actress has sued Youssef, claiming her image and reputation were harmed and her safety was put in jeopardy, citing a religious edict she said an Egyptian cleric had issued against anyone connected with the movie.
CASE HAD ‘EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE MOVIE’
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugdale said some cast members have received death threats and feared for their lives.
The film touched off a torrent of anti-American unrest in Arab and Muslim countries. The start of the violence on September 11 coincided with an attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
U.S. and other foreign embassies were also stormed in various cities across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is considered blasphemous.
Defense lawyer Steven Seiden told reporters after Wednesday’s hearing that the government was using its probation case to punish Youssef for making the film, thus chilling his client’s constitutional rights to freedom of expression.
“This hearing had everything to do with the movie,” he said.
Dugdale said in court that Youssef was not being prosecuted for the content of his film but because “the way he made this movie, he did defraud people,” in part by operating under an assumed identity.
Youssef appeared in court in a white jumpsuit, his hands shackled to his waist. He said little, and an Arabic translator was used to communicate with him.
While in protective custody since his arrest, Youssef has remained essentially isolated and unable to see his relatives, except for brief glimpses he can catch in courtrooms, Seiden said.
The defense lawyer also told reporters his client wrote the script for the video and may have served as a “cultural consultant” on the video, but does not own rights to it.
Youssef previously was convicted of fraudulently obtaining 641 credit and debit cards and 60 bank accounts, defrauding banks of $800,000, Dugdale said. (Reporting by Brandon Lowery; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Andre Grenon and Lisa Shumaker)