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Nakoula Basseley Nakoula Sentenced To A Year In Jail For Probation Violations

The producer of a controversial anti-Muslim film that led to anti-American riots in several Muslim nations back in September, and who was arrested on charges that he had violated the terms of his Federal Probation shortly thereafter, has been sentenced to a year in jail:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The California man behind an anti-Muslim film that led to violence in many parts of the Middle East was sentenced Wednesday to a year in federal prison for probation violations in an unrelated matter, then issued a provocative statement through his attorney.

The sentence was the result of a plea bargain between lawyers for Mark Bassely Youssef and federal prosecutors. Youssef admitted in open court that he had used several false names in violation of his probation order and obtained a driver’s license under a false name. He was on probation for a bank fraud case.

Shortly after Youssef left the courtroom, his lawyer, Steven Seiden, came to the front steps of the courthouse and told reporters his client wanted to send a message.

“The one thing he wanted me to tell all of you is President Obama may have gotten Osama bin Laden, but he didn’t kill the ideology,” Seiden said.

Asked what that meant, Seiden said, “I didn’t ask him, and I don’t know.”

U.S. District Court Judge Christina Snyder accepted the plea agreement and immediately sentenced Youssef after he admitted to four of the eight alleged violations, including obtaining a fraudulent California driver’s license. Prosecutors agreed to drop the other four allegations under the plea deal, which also included more probation time.

All parties agreed that none of the violations had to do with the content of “Innocence of Muslims,” a film that depicts Mohammad as a religious fraud, pedophile and womanizer.

However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Dugdale argued Youssef’s lies about his identity have caused harm to others, including the film’s cast and crew. Deadly violence related to the film broke out Sept. 11 and spread to many parts of the Middle East.

“They had no idea he was a recently released felon,” Dugdale said Wednesday. “Had they known that, they might have had second thoughts” about being part of the film.

Based on the allegations against him, it seems fairly clear that Nakoula, who apparently also goes under the name Youseff along with a number of other aliases, had violated the terms of his probation so I don’t necessarily have a problem with the sentence. However, I find myself agreeing with Jonathan Turley about the manner in which this entire story unfolded:

When the Administration arrested Youssef, it seemed to go out of its way to be sure that there were ample opportunities for filming him being dragged way in cuffs — an image that was immediately broadcast around the world. It sent a chilling message to some that the government can generally find some grounds to punish you when you cause a controversy — even if you are not prosecuted for the underlying speech itself. Violations of probation conditions are quite common and rarely result in re-incarceration. Probation terms tend to be sweeping and most such violations result in warnings or brief appearances before the court.

None of this excuses Youssef’s actions, particularly in his acquiring of the driver’s license. Yet, the speedy arrest (and now conviction) leaves many civil libertarians uneasy as to whether the Administration found a way to “hoist the wretch” by other means than blasphemy.

Ken at Popehat, who is a Los Angeles attorney familiar with the criminal proceedings in Federal Court there, makes similar comments:

Mr. Nakoula’s revocation proceedings required a probation officer (an employee of the judicial branch) to file a revocation petition and Judge Snyder (also in the judicial branch) to approve it. If the Obama administration — the executive branch — contacted the United States Probation Office and pressured the probation office to file revocation proceedings because Nakoula made the film, I think there should be a Congressional inquiry. I’m aware of the statement by Charles Woods, the father of the Navy Seal Tyrone Woods who was killed by terrorists in Benghazi, who says that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told him that the government would punish the filmmaker. Mr. Woods is justifiably furious with the administration and Ms. Clinton’s words to him are not to be taken at face value, so this report is not conclusive evidence to me. But it’s a piece of evidence, and Congress might think it sufficient to start an inquiry. Under existing selective prosecution law it might not beunconstitutional for the administration to suggest that Nakoula’s supervised release be revoked for conduct that would get anyone else revoked. Nakoula’s conduct is absolutely the sort that does, and should, routinely result in revocation of supervised release. But we should know whether or not the administration had a hand in it, and there should be consequences — even if they are only political — if they did.

I tend to agree. There is such a thing as prosecutorial discretion, and not every Probation violation gets the kind of immediate attention that Nakoula’s did here. If there was pressure from the Executive Branch on the Judicial Branch to go after Nakoula because of the international attention that had been drawn to him, then that’s something that we ought to know about.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Just Me says:

    I used to work probation. It is rare that a probationer was imprisoned for a non criminal violation. And then it was usually a habitual one (probationer given several chances to fix the problem).

    I am not necessarily troubled that he was violated, but I do think the administration played a role in this and used him for a scapegoat and I find that troubling.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  2. Ben says:

    While it’s true that most probation violations don’t result in jail time, you have to take into account that most probation violations are relatively innocuous, such as missing a curfew or a meeting, failing an alocohol or drug test, or something of that nature.

    But this guy has a history of fraud and identity theft, which included the use of tons of fake identities. And now here he is again, using fake identities and even acquiring official ID using one of his aliases. I think that is a very very bad sign of criminal recidivism that most judges WOULD tend to push for re-incarceration.

    I really don’t give a damn about the movie he made. But doing something that was going to attract attention to yourself is a very dumb move if you’re going to be so brazenly violating your probation terms, in exactly the same way as your previous misdeeds. If you’re going to break the law, at least keep your head down.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. CB says:

    @Just Me:

    its not, however, rare for parolees to be imprisoned for parole violations

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. mantis says:

    If there was pressure from the Executive Branch on the Judicial Branch to go after Nakoula because of the international attention that had been drawn to him, then that’s something that we ought to know about.

    You and everyone you quote speak as if it is a foregone conclusion that the administration intervened. Do you have any evidence whatsoever to believe this? And no, the Seal’s father claiming Sec. Clinton said we would punish the filmmaker is not evidence of anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. Rob in CT says:

    They probably need to hide this guy under a rock somewhere to be safe. I’ve no problem with his punishment. He’s a fraudster who clearly violated the terms of his parole.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. mattb says:

    I doubt that there was pressure from the administration. The far more logical explanation is that, to the degree this is an over-reaction, it’s an over-reaction by the people on the ground wanting to make an example of this individual.

    This happens all the time, especially in high profile, very public cases.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  7. rudderpedals says:
  8. Just Me says:

    its not, however, rare for parolees to be imprisoned for parole violations

    Actually even parolees get a lot of chances when it comes to violations of the agreement and not a new crime.

    Generally for violations that result in prison or a return to prison they have to be habitual-but it the mileage is going to vary.

    I am not convinced the justice department in Washington had no role in what happened, but one thing about this case is that there was evidence that he had a forged CA license which would be a crime, and in his deal that was dropped, so his violation wasn’t exactly a technical one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. CB says:

    @Just Me:

    hm, fair enough. did not really know that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Then, and on the other hand, for those with friends in the right (or is that left) places:

    http://freebeacon.com/former-dem-mayor-violates-probation/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. MM says:

    While it’s true that most probation violations don’t result in jail time, you have to take into account that most probation violations are relatively innocuous, such as missing a curfew or a meeting, failing an alocohol or drug test, or something of that nature.

    Also, one thing that law enforcement doesn;t really like is to be played for fools. Most petty thefts don;t get solved, but stealing a bike and posting “LOL Stole a bike, come get me Johnny Law” on facebook is going to probably end with an arrest.

    This guy could have grifted thousands of dollars from people for years to make his fake movie. But once people found out about it, he basically had a n arrow pointing at his head that said “come get me”.

    If you are going to violate the conditions of your release, you ought not be obnoxious about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. bill says:

    he made the mistake of making obama look bad…..er, than usual. it’s a total hack job and they’re just trying to appease our enemies.
    of course anyone who could make a movie that bad should be jailed, but then half of hollywood would be ex-cons by now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Herb says:

    If there was pressure from the Executive Branch on the Judicial Branch to go after Nakoula because of the international attention that had been drawn to him, then that’s something that we ought to know about.

    At least you acknowledge we’re talking about two different branches of government here. Turley is all too willing to blur the distinction with his “When the Administration arrested Youseff….”

    I also disagree with Turley on this: “It sent a chilling message to some that the government can generally find some grounds to punish you when you cause a controversy — even if you are not prosecuted for the underlying speech itself. ”

    It’s entirely likely prosecutors would have found out about the fake name and the fraudulent drivers license without the Innocence of Muslims controversy.

    It’s just Youseff/Bacile’s dumb luck that being thrust into the public eye exposed his criminality.

    If anything, it’s a chilling message to dumb criminals who think that prosecutors don’t watch the news.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. jukeboxgrad says:

    When the Administration arrested Youssef, it seemed to go out of its way to be sure that there were ample opportunities for filming him being dragged way in cuffs

    This is the opposite of the truth. Link.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0