Filmmaker Behind “Innocence Of Muslims” Questioned By Federal Officers

The man behind the film that has set off sometimes violent protests across the Muslim world was questioned for several hours yesterday by Federal law enforcement officials, but apparently not for the reason you might think:

LOS ANGELES — A Southern California filmmaker linked to an anti-Islamic movie inflaming protests across the Middle East was interviewed by federal probation officers at a Los Angeles sheriff’s station but was not arrested or detained, authorities said early Saturday.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was interviewed at the station in his hometown of Cerritos, Calif., Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Don Walker said.

Federal officials are investigating whether Nakoula, who has been convicted of financial crimes, has violated the terms of his five-year probation. If so, a judge could send him back to prison.

Nakoula went voluntarily to the station early Saturday morning, wearing a coat, hat, scarf and glasses that concealed his appearance. It is unclear whether he returned to his home, which has been besieged by media for several days.

The probation department is reviewing the case of Nakoula, who pleaded no contest to bank fraud charges in 2010 and was banned from using computers or the Internet or using false identities as part of his sentence.

Federal authorities have identified Nakoula, a self-described Coptic Christian, as the key figure behind “Innocence of Muslims,” a film denigrating Islam and the Prophet Muhammad that ignited mob violence against U.S. embassies across the Middle East.

(…)

A federal law enforcement official said authorities had connected Nakoula to a man using the pseudonym of Sam Bacile who claimed earlier to be writer and director of the film.

Under the terms of his probation, Nakoula is essentially required to cooperate with any request from his Probation Officer to appear for questioning, so he really had no choice as to whether or not he was going to appear. Additionally, if he has violated the terms of his probation then he could be in danger of being sent to Federal Prison to serve out his sentence. So, legally, there was nothing improper about what his Probation Officer(s) did here. Nonetheless, I have to wonder how much of what they talked with him about for several hours dealt with his potential probation violations, and how much of it deal with the movie that he’s apparently connected with. Since I seriously doubt that there was anything about the movie that violated the terms of Nakoula’s probation, I find that rather disturbing because it feels like the Feds intimidating someone for no good reason.

Like it or not, offensive or not, Nakoula had a right to make this movie. The fact that bunch of troglodytes half a world away aren’t civilized enough to realize this is no good reason to make him the subject of a potentially illegitimate Federal investigation.

FILED UNDER: Islam, Law and the Courts, Quick Takes, Religion, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. stonetools says:

    was banned from using computers or the Internet or using false identities as part of his sentence.

    Hard to understand how he could have posted the video on YouTube under the name Bacile , if he did not violate those terms .

    As someone who blames him for the reasonably foreseeable deaths of six people and counting, I say f&*/ him. It’s the right to free speech, not unaccountable speech.

  2. Ernieyeball says:

    …if he has violated the terms of his probation then he could be in danger of being sent to Federal Prison to serve out his sentence.

    If he has violated those terms and is sent to prison I suspect he belongs on the list of stoopid people venerated by Santorum as noted in another Mataconis post today.
    Ricky Dink can visit Mr. Nakoula at his new home and celebrate his witless behvior.

  3. Brian says:

    Think we’re talking scale here. If he had been logging to check TMZ, that’s one thing. What he did, tho…

    And of course the fake identity, given his previous scams, would be a no-no.

  4. Anderson says:

    Jesus H Christ, Doug … How come the very first commenter was able to read your post and you weren’t?

    It seems entirely right for probation officers to wonder has the producer of a YouTube sensation been on a computer. Like you wouldn’t wonder that if you were his parole officer?

    One of the surest signs of ideology is failure to see what’s right there in front of you, or seeing phantoms that aren’t there.

  5. Dax Dushkewich says:

    Producer Of Anti-Islam Film Was Fed Snitch… Wag the Dog..?

    Nakoula, 55, was arrested in June 2009 for his role in a check-kiting ring that stole nearly $800,000 from six financial institutions by using stolen Social Security numbers and identities. Nakoula was named in a six-count felony indictment accusing him and unnamed “co-schemers” of perpetrating the bank fraud.

    Denied bail, Nakoula, a married father of three, was locked up at the Metropolitan Detention Center in L.A. when he began cooperating with Justice Department lawyers and federal agents. During a series of debriefing sessions, Nakoula provided investigators with a detailed account of the fraud operation and fingered the man who allegedly headed the operation, according to comments made by his lawyer at sentencing.

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/documents/investigation/nakoula-cooperation-756920

  6. HankP says:

    If you’re on probation under the terms he agreed to, it’s probably best not to violate it in a very public way. I wouldn’t think there’s be any debate about this.

  7. @stonetools:

    I don’t disagree, but I suppose my concern is that the Federal officers recognized that there is a difference between any possible probation violations (which may, or may not, result in him going to prison) and the film. This smells like intimidation to me.

  8. @Anderson:

    I’d question the legitmacy of “no using computers” as a condition for parole. That could be considered an unconstitutionally broad infringement on his first ammendment rights, as seen in this case.

  9. Argon says:

    Well if we’re going to engage in speculative fantasies, one might be interested in his backers and if there any connections to foreign groups with a vested interest in stirring up problems in the Middle East. Any connections with the Likud party? And how did this completely obscure video explode there? There are certainly interesting and relevant questions to ask this idiot that have nothing to do with intimidation.

  10. It’s a pretty amazing coincidence that he “was banned from using computers or the Internet or using false identities as part of his sentence.” Or maybe not if that is his mode of wankerdom.

    It doesn’t bother me that he’s questioned. Making a movie with digital effects, posting a movie online, particularly under another name, all seem pretty obviously against the terms of his sentence.

    This is not particularly rough justice.

  11. Anderson says:

    @Stormy Dragon: He can challenge it if he wants, but unless and until, it’s binding.

    And yes, I think he did wank that way.

  12. Ernieyeball says:

    …was banned from using computers…

    This would mean he could not drive a car.

  13. Brian says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Can you explain this more? I mean, if he’s obviously violating 2 terms of his parole agreement, how is it intimidation?

  14. Brian,

    We don’t know that he’s “obviously violating 2 terms of his parole agreement.”

  15. Rick Almeida says:

    Doug, as a so-called Libertarian, do you believe that our choices have consequences or that with freedom comes responsibility?

  16. Gustopher says:

    Like it or not, offensive or not, Nakoula had a right to make this movie.

    Not if making the movie involved using a computer. He gave up that right as part of his probation. He was, I would assume, given the choice of just sitting in jail.

  17. Brian says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Mmmm…most news reports have said he’s tied to the movie and was using the Bacile (?) name, and I recall one story where he (I presumed this man) showed an ID under the name Bacile. Taking these stories as truthful, it would seem he violated 2 terms of parole.

  18. John Burgess says:

    @Stormy Dragon: That’s actually a very common restriction on both parolees (which this guy, technically is not) and those on supervised release (which, technically, he is). We see it all the time for situations in which computers were the necessary tools used in committing the crime… kiddy porn, financial transactions, actual computer crimes. Courts have not found it overbroad.

    People in supervised release and on parole have conditions set upon them. If they do not like those conditions, then they may choose to serve their sentences in entirety.

    Parole/release conditions are frequently set to limit who one can see (freedom of association is impacted); what they can drink (basic human right); where they can go (basic human right); and that they be available to be searched in person or have their living accommodations searched (fourth amendment).

  19. JKB says:

    Funny how the Federal authorities only became interested in his possible probation violations after the Federal government used government resources to track down an unknown person who violated no law or even terms of service to post a video on a publicly available video posting site.

  20. @John Burgess:

    That’s actually a very common restriction on both parolees (which this guy, technically is not) and those on supervised release (which, technically, he is).

    Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it should be. We wouldn’t allow, say, a forger to be punished by banning them from writing anything ever. A complete ban from what is becoming one of our primary means of communications seems to me likewise a ridiculously overbroad restriction. The fact that it’s allowed is more reflective of the legal profession’s general difficult in dealing with technology rather than a reflection of legal merit.

  21. Al says:

    Ken, over at Popehat addresses this as well and I find his take it compelling.

    [If Nakoula] was running a business, producing a movie, soliciting money, and interacting with others using an alias, I would absolutely expect him to be arrested immediately, whatever the content of the movie.

    The guy was on probation and attracted a lot of attention to himself. Usually that’s the opposite of what you want to do in that situation.

  22. Al says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Probation isn’t forever. If a prisoner finds the terms of their release too onerous they could always just serve out their entire sentence.

  23. Rick Almeida says:

    @JKB:

    You mean became interested in him after there was evidence he violated the terms of his release?

    Would you prefer their becoming interested in him before he may have done something wrong?

  24. @Al:

    So is there any limitation on parole at all? Could a parolee be required to attend church weekly? To vote for a particular political party? To waive his right to a jury trial for any indictments that occur during the course of the probation? If not, what’s distinguishes allowable conditions for unallowable ones?

  25. jukeboxgrad says:

    Republicans are in favor of enforcing the law except when they aren’t.

  26. Al says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    In order of the questions asked:

    Sure. If nothing else the parolees themselves. They’ve got to agree with the conditions.

    Maybe?

    In some states they can’t vote at all.

    Probably.

    The discretion of the parole board and state’s governor?

  27. @Al:

    With regard to the church question, I can’t find any federal precedents, but several states have sanctioned judges for attempting to make church attendance a parole requirement. Congratulations, your views on church-state separation are to the right of Mississippi.

    With regard to point #3 is definitely no (Morrissey v. Brewer).

    My point here is that paroles have reduced rights, but that doesn’t mean they have no rights. There are limitations on the conditions the state may place on them, even with their agreement, and I would argue a blanket ban on internet use ought to fall into that category.

  28. John Burgess says:

    @Stormy Dragon: What you’re missing is that this guy is still serving his sentence and is not ‘a free man’. He’s serving it outside a jail under certain conditions. If he had served his full term and been released, then what you’re noting would be right. But he hasn’t. If he screws up adequately, then he’s back in the slammer, with no additional trial, no lawyer, no nothing… he’s still serving his original sentence.

  29. @John Burgess:

    If he screws up adequately, then he’s back in the slammer, with no additional trial, no lawyer, no nothing… he’s still serving his original sentence.

    Well the US Supreme Court disagrees with you, in Morrissey v. Brewer they ruled that probation may not be revoked without due process. Again, inmates have fewer rights, but that does not mean they have no rights.

  30. @Stormy Dragon:

    To be specific, they held:

    1. Though parole revocation does not call for the full panoply of rights due a defendant in a criminal proceeding, a parolee’s liberty involves significant values within the protection of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and termination of that liberty requires an informal hearing to give assurance that the finding of a parole violation is based on verified facts to support the revocation. Pp. 408 U. S. 480-482.

    2. Due process requires a reasonably prompt informal inquiry conducted by an impartial hearing officer near the place of the alleged parole violation or arrest to determine if there is reasonable ground to believe that the arrested parolee has violated a parole condition. The parolee should receive prior notice of the inquiry, its purpose, and the alleged violations. The parolee may present relevant information and (absent security considerations) question adverse informants. The hearing officer shall digest the evidence on probable cause and state the reasons for holding the parolee for the parole board’s decision. Pp. 408 U. S. 484-487.

    3. At the revocation hearing, which must be conducted reasonably soon after the parolee’s arrest, minimum due process requirements are: (a) written notice of the claimed violations of parole; (b) disclosure to the parolee of evidence against him; (c) opportunity to be heard in person and to present witnesses and documentary evidence; (d) the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses (unless the hearing officer specifically finds good cause for not allowing confrontation); (e) a “neutral and detached” hearing body such as a traditional parole board, members of which need not be judicial officers or lawyers; and (f) a written statement
    by the factfinders as to the evidence relied on and reasons for revoking parole.

  31. Al says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Either that or you’re assuming that I care way more about the rights of parolees than I actually do.

    If you read the complaint against Nakoula you’ll see that his fraud was committed primarily through the Internet. Is it appropriate then to say that he can’t use the Internet if he’s released on parolee or supervised release? Yeah, I think so. If he was running a telemarketing scam and a condition of his parolee or supervised release was that he couldn’t use the phone would I think that’s appropriate then yes, I would. My sympathy for someone who’s guilty of a crime serious enough that they can be put on parolee or supervised release is just about non-existent. As I’ve said before, if someone thinks that they can’t function or simply stay out of trouble under they conditions of their release then they can always just serve out the rest of their sentence.

  32. bill says:

    it’s almost funny how the gov’t. is pandering to those wacky muslims who seem to hate everyone who isn’t one of them. so this sleazebag makes a crappy video about about a guy who invented a religion- so what? and just coincidentally, these same American hating muslims go on a rampage on Sept.11- of all days, kill more unprotected Americans and burn our embassies. brilliant. weak is more like it.

  33. bill says:

    @JKB: scapegoating 101, appeasing our enemies too. how embarrassing for us.

  34. Barry says:

    @stonetools: It’s hilarious – Doug actually posts the fact that that man violated his probation, and then proceeds onward, not acknowledging that.

  35. Barry says:

    @Anderson: “One of the surest signs of ideology is failure to see what’s right there in front of you, or seeing phantoms that aren’t there. ”

    What’s bad is that Doug is a lawyer, and is making an argument, in which he basically admitted the guilt of his ‘client’.

  36. Barry says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “We don’t know that he’s “obviously violating 2 terms of his parole agreement.” ”

    Actually, we do, since you posted them here.